Swiss legend Roger Federer played his last match this Friday night in London, in doubles with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup. The opportunity to remember the outings of five great champions.
Pete Sampras, a success as a farewell
Exit the circuit at the top of its game is not chosen simple. Pete Sampas, winner of 14 majors including seven at Wimbledon, had a legendary last encounter. It was against his rival and compatriot Andre Agassi that Sampras left the world of tennis on August 26, 2002. He won the US Open final (6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4) to win his last career Grand Slam. A high-flying course after eliminating Tommy Haas and Andy Roddick in particular. A title with a very particular flavor as Sampras experienced a real decline in the months preceding the tournament. The other originality of Sampras’ last match is that his retirement was not in itself planned, no one was aware that this final was his last: his decision was not formalized until the months following the final and after several attempts to return to competition. A farewell ceremony was then held at the 2003 US Open.
John McEnroe, a goodbye and three returns
The most explosive character in the history of the circuit is experienced a career end in several chapters. In 1986, John McEnroe took a first six-month break before returning to competition. The American announced a (real) retirement at the end of the 1992 season. Nevertheless, he made a brief return to the circuit at the Rotterdam invitational tournament in 1994: he was quickly dispatched by Magnus Gustafsson in the first round. Subsequently, McEnroe accepted a few invitations, notably in mixed doubles with the German Steffi Graf in 1999 where they finished the Wimbledon semi-finals together before forfeiting. In 2006, he won the San José tournament in doubles with Sweden’s Jonas Björkman. Last title won by the American.
Björn Borg, too early a start
A few months after his defeat against Yannick Noah in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters, Björn Borg shocked the tennis world by announcing his retirement on January 23, 1983 after only eleven years at the top level and at only 26 years old. Despite the demands of the public and some opponents like McEnroe, the Swede will not change his mind for many years. He nevertheless attempted a return to competition by accepting a few invitations where he fell against Henri Leconte in Monte-Carlo and in Stuttgart in 1984. His victories in Osaka the same year and in Tokyo in 1985 remained anecdotal. At 35, Borg held back an unsuccessful comeback for the last time in 1991 with meager exhibition appearances in several cities (Nice, Monte-Carlo, Munich, Washington, Los Angeles, Bordeaux, Basel and Toulouse) until his final match on indoor carpet in Moscow in 1993.
Andre Agassi, a last round at the US Open
Here’s another great outing: Andre Agassi left the tennis circuit on September 3, 2006 at the US Open – like Pete Sampras. But unlike his elder, Agassi will come out the back door, eliminated in four sets by the German Benjamin Becker from qualifying. A tournament of extreme intensity for the American player, forced to chain injections after each match to alleviate his chronic back, ankle and leg pain. Of note though was his impressive win over Marcos Baghdatis, an Australian Open runner-up and Wimbledon semi-finalist that season, in that edition of Flushing Meadows in five sets. Agassi’s 2006 year generally took the form of a farewell tour with a third loss at Wimbledon to eventual winner Rafael Nadal of Spain, then world number 2.
Ivan Lendl, a discreet exit
If some go out through the front door, other elderly people retire in virtual anonymity, this is the unfortunate case of Ivan Lendl. No longer able to compete against McEnroe, Edberg or Becker against whom he lost his last final in Australia in 1991, the Czechoslovak left the tennis family in the second round of the US Open at the end of August 1994 after several years of rapid decline. At Roland-Garros, during his last professional year, he was eliminated in the first round against Stéphane Huet, then ranked 294th in the world. At Wimbledon, he misses a round before going out against Arnaud Boestch due to back problems.