Roger Federer Goes Out In Glory In Prime Video Doc ‘Twelve Final Days’

Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand during his men's Singles Quarter Final match against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on Day Nine of The Championships - Wimbledon 2021 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 07, 2021 in London, England.

In men’s tennis, as in other sports, there is constant debate over which player qualifies as the Greatest of All Time. Djokovic with his unprecedented 24 Grand Slam wins? Nadal with his astonishing 14 French Open victories? Federer, the first man to win 20 Grand Slams? Or perhaps a player from an earlier era – Rod Laver – who swept all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year, not once but twice?

The GOAT debate in tennis will never be resolved. But there is broad consensus on one thing: no one has ever played the game with as much grace, as much beauty, with such effortless shot making and economy of form as the man from Basel, Switzerland – Roger Federer. It was, therefore, with enormous sadness but heartfelt appreciation that tennis fans greeted the news in 2022 that Federer, bowing to time, would retire from the sport he defined for more than 20 years.

Roger Federer plays his final match at Wimbledon in 2021.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Federer: Twelve Final Days, documents the master’s exit from the professional arena, a departure as elegantly performed as a Federer backhand. The film, directed by Oscar winner Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia, premiered Monday night at Tribeca Festival. It debuts on Prime Video next Thursday, June 20.

“I had interviewed Roger for this series I do for Vogue called 73 Questions. Not blowing smoke — he truly was probably one of the best interviews I’ve had out of 90 interviews. It was on the court at Wimbledon and it was really special,” Sabia explains in an interview with Deadline. “I think he felt that it was a special experience enough to where he would be willing to consider having me go out to Switzerland to film him — three years later — for his retirement.”

Sabia documented behind the scenes as Federer recorded a video sharing the news of his decision. The message went out via Instagram on September 15, 2022.

Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia attend the

Directors Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia attend the ‘Federer: Twelve Final Days’ screening in London on June 13, 2024.

Kate Green/Getty Images

“As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries,” Federer said in the video. “I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.”

The original idea was for Sabia to turn his material into a short documentary – one set long, so to speak (to use a tennis analogy). But if you’re going to play one set, wouldn’t three be even more exciting? That’s where Kapadia came in.

“Joe had shot it. Joe had cut something together. Then I got a message saying, ‘Look, would you be interested in doing a film about Roger Federer? There’s this edit.’ So, I came in much later,” Kapadia says. “The truth is I am doing the washing at home and I’m watching this [edit] and I’m going, ‘I’m not sure this is going to be for me,’ right? But… I’m really engaged, and I’m really moved by it. And I think that was the reason why I thought, ‘Okay, this has really affected me in a way that I did not expect.’”

Roger Federer of Switzerland in action during the Men's Singles Quarter Final against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland at The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club at Wimbledon on July 7th, 2021 in London, England.

Roger Federer

Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images

Kapadia says it was probably in hindsight that he realized the Federer project fit neatly into a sort of timeline of films he’s made – about singer Amy Winehouse, the race car driver Ayrton Senna, and the football great Diego Maradona.

“Amy was about a girl in her teens and twenties. Senna was a racer in his twenties and his thirties, and he died in his thirties,” he notes. “Roger’s story was about someone retiring in their forties. And when I met Maradona, he was in his fifties. So somewhere there’s this ‘ages of man,’ ‘ages of people’ [theme].”

'Federer: Twelve Final Days' poster

Prime Video

Stylistically, it’s a departure from Kapadia’s earlier documentaries, which pioneered a new way of doing nonfiction stories: no on-camera interviews; every second covered by archive video. That approach has influenced many other documentary filmmakers. But Federer: Twelve Final Days is shot much closer to vérité style, and includes on-camera interviews with Federer, his family members, his contemporaries on court and fellow legends of the game, including John McEnroe and Björn Borg.

“Sometimes it’s good to do something completely different,” Kapadia notes, acknowledging there have been imitators of his style in the Winehouse, Senna, and Maradona films. “[If] everyone else is doing it, then you should always switch and say, ‘Well, I’m going to do something else.’ And that was interesting for me, the fact that it was very different to the previous work, but it’s still about character. And the main thing is the film has to be truthful to the character. And I think this is truthful to Roger. This is really what he’s like. He’s a really good guy and he comes across that way. He’s very giving and sharing and emotional.”

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer of Team Europe look sad after Roger's last match following the doubles match between Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe of Team World and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of Team Europe during Day One of the Laver Cup at The O2 Arena on September 23, 2022 in London, England.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer shed tears following Federer’s final competitive match at the Laver Cup in London on September 23, 2022.

Julian Finney/Getty Images for Laver Cup

The “Twelve Final Days” of the title refers to the period between Federer’s announcement that he would retire and the event that would mark his final competitive tournament, the Laver Cup in London. He chose to go out playing doubles with his on-court rival Rafael Nadal. It says something profound about Federer that when Nadal, who is four years younger than him, came onto the professional scene and began winning titles that Federer might otherwise have claimed, he did not spurn or loathe the upstart. They became great friends. Many tears are shed in the film as Federer says his farewell, a lot of them by Nadal.

Now Nadal is approaching the end of his career, as is Andy Murray, the great Scottish pro and multiple Grand Slam winner. Time waits for no one, which is part of what lends the documentary its poignancy. Kapadia mentions a line spoken in the film by another player: “Athletes die twice,” meaning once when they retire, and once at the end of their lives. “It’s a very powerful line, which, Joe, you just sort of caught in the corridor, but probably my favorite line in a way, when you realize, yeah, no one’s really quite said it as succinctly as that. It really does feel like a death. You’re seeing that in the eyes of all the other rivals.”

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer of Team Europe during the doubles match between Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe of Team World and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of Team Europe during Day One of the Laver Cup at The O2 Arena on September 23, 2022 in London, England.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play in Federer’s final competitive match at the Laver Cup in London on September 23, 2022.

Julian Finney/Getty Images for Laver Cup

“They’re seeing their death eventually,” Sabia adds. “Roger even says this too — every time there’s a screening, he says, ‘It’s like watching my funeral over and over again.’ So, he very much subscribes to this [idea] we speak of. But I think what’s really compelling is that the audience gets a chance to imagine themselves in the shoes — not necessarily the idea of being an elite tennis player and losing that — but what identity do we all hold so close to ourselves that if we imagined it disappearing tomorrow, how we would feel about that?”

The most anyone could hope for would be to have a legacy like Roger Federer’s to look back on.

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