Federer: Twelve Final Days review – teary-eyed portrayal of a legend’s last stand

The tears of Roger Federer, along with the tears of Rafael Nadal and even the tears of Novak Djokovic, are what finally give some point to what is otherwise a pretty bland, officially sanctioned corporate promo for the Federer brand. This documentary for Amazon Prime – co-directed by Asif Kapadia and video content producer Joe Sabia – has behind-the-scenes access, following the final 12 days in the top-flight tennis career of the legendary champion, from his announcement of retirement in 2022 to his emotional curtain-call appearance at the Laver Cup in London, named after Rod Laver, the starry new Europe-versus-the World team tournament that Federer has done so much to develop.

Federer was bowing out with style like the class act he’s always been and as legends such as Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Andy Murray and Rod Laver himself line up to pay tribute, there is a Niagara of tears. And yes, it is genuinely sad. But compare it to Asif Kapadia’s other films about Ayrton Senna and Diego Maradona – his radical and electrifying mosaics of archive footage, which show passionate lives being played out in public … and frankly this looks disappointing. Of course, Federer is a more demure personality, though even this point is treated rather incuriously. The paradox is that this film’s original footage, in contrast to the vividly repurposed material of the Senna and Maradona studies, weirdly looks less intimate and more guarded. Everything here looks as if it has been approved at the highest level.

Well, Federer has unforced charm and certainly emerges here – in the featureless world of SUVs, private jets, luxury hotels and corporate function rooms – as easily the most relaxed and easygoing of all the tennis galacticos who appear on camera with him. But the film passes over what was presumably a very tricky career moment – a Hollywood biopic might even make it the central crisis of his life: when he tried to be a snarling bad guy on court because he (briefly) thought this was how an alpha-male player behaves. “I tried … it was all an act … it was not my personality.” So when exactly did he start this pretence? When did he abandon it? Whose advice did he take? A potentially fascinating subject is all but ignored here.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a fan’s eye view, a view that does not set out to find controversy or feet of clay. And Federer is not boring: he is calm, equable, intelligent, polite with everyone including the press with whom he talks in three languages. He has the A-list athlete’s gift of looking relaxed yet powerful in his skin and were it not for the bad knee which forced the retirement, looks as if he could easily carry on. But this doesn’t give us much of his actual playing, except in tiny clips; it’s only about this peculiar twilit time between the announcement and the final tearful retirement moment. It’s a period in which all the big decisions – including of course the decision to greenlight this film – are not shown.

Federer: Twelve Final Days is on Prime Video from 20 June.

The Guardian

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