Ahead of our very exciting event with Geoff Dyer on June 16, we are delighted to bring you an exclusive extract from his brilliant new book, The Last Days of Roger Federer. You can CLICK HERE to book tickets to the event – in the meantime, enjoy…

I was dilly-dallying, unsure how to start this book about how things

end, on Thursday 10 January 2019, when, at the press conference

ahead of his first-round match at the Australian Open, Andy Murray

announced what amounted to his retirement. More than moving, it

was devastating to watch. The first, fairly innocuous question proved

too much for him. Unable to answer, he left the stage for several min-

utes to compose himself. It was the end, he said when he came back

out. He hoped to bow out at Wimbledon in July but was not sure he

would make it even that far. When another journalist asked if this

meant the Australian Open might be his last tournament, Murray said

that was quite likely. Which meant that his match on Monday —my

Sunday in Los Angeles— against Roberto Bautista Agut might be his

last. Murray sat there describing how the pain, not just of playing

top-level tennis but of pulling on his socks and putting on his shoes

at home, was too much. As often happens in these press conferences

his common-sense answers made the questions a little superfluous.

Had he seen a sports psychologist? Yes, but that didn’t help because

the pain was still there. If it had made the pain go away then he’d be

feeling great. The whole thing made for harrowing and, of course, ab-

solutely absorbing viewing. It was the end, Murray said, partly because

there was no end in sight— to the training, the rehab, the pain; no sign

when he might begin to get back to his best. A line from ‘The End’

floated through my head as I watched this gladiatorial athlete ‘lost in a

Roman wilderness of pain.’

One of the questions that had got me interested in this subject—

things coming to an end, artists’ last works, time running out—

was the long-running one of Roger Federer’s eventual retirement. The

imminent departure of the first of the ‘big four’ male players brought

an unexpected if indirect urgency into play. With a rival six years

his  junior on the way out Roger’s time seemed also to be shrinking

around him.

Writers often have an end in sight for completing a book. For some

this can take the form of a proposal that leads to a contract in which

a deadline for delivery of the manuscript is agreed upon in advance;

I’m not one of them but Murray’s going out of the Australian Open,

as expected, in a blaze of beaten glory to Bautista Agut after five typ-

ically gruelling sets (the first two of which he had lost) concentrated

the mind. It seemed important that a book underwritten by my own

experience of the changes wrought by ageing should be completed

before Roger’s retirement, in the long twilight of his career. Even

with no idea of where, when, or how things might end up it was time

to start work on a book that ended up being written while life as we

know it came to an end.

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