Saturday, July 13, 2024

Federer: Twelve Final Days review - Tear-jerking tribute to Tennis champ in a sappy documentation of his sporting farewell

Asif Kapadia's latest sports documentary sheds light on Roger Federer's final days in professional tennis, from the day of recording the announcement till his last dance in the Laver Cup alongside his fiercest rival, Rafael Nadal in London.

Anshul Gupta Updated on: June 13, 2024 16:11 IST
Roger Federer after his final appearance on court in Laver
Roger Federer after his final appearance on court in Laver Cup in 2022Photo:GETTY
  • Movie Name:Federer: Twelve Final Days
  • Critics Rating: 3 / 5
  • Release Date: Jun 20, 2024
  • Director: Asif Kapadia
  • Genre: Documentary

"It's raining here in Switzerland. It's fitting, I think the Swiss Alps are shedding a tear for the end of one of the greatest careers in sporting history," says Tony Rodsick, Roger Federer's agent in one of the phone calls to the tennis phenom's biggest fan Anna Wintour minutes before the news of his retirement is set to be broken out to the world. Never before, a whole 90-minute film was summed up in one sentence. It's one breakdown, after the other, some more tears and a lot more crying as the tennis 'perfection' as Federer's contemporaries call him, rode off into the sunset.

Federer is crying, his wife and long-time partner Mirka fails to hold onto her emotions, even Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic let it all out. The documentary encapsulating the final twelve days of Federer's playing days — starting from the recording of the announcement to publishing it to the world a day later and then prepping for the last dance in London in the Laver Cup, a Team Europe vs Team World exhibition match — puts emotions right in the front and centre of it. 

Federer likens retirement with grieving. A part of you will miss what you did and were able to achieve and maybe still could pull off on that tennis court but the remaining part finds solace in not being able to put your body under so much pressure and trouble. 'Beginning of the end', Federer labels surgeries saying that he stayed away from them for the longest but multiple of them in the last few years was a sign that the end was near. For a bunch of the gen z, Federer meant Tennis irrespective of the nationalist allegiance. Those long flowing hair in the early 2000s, that beast of a champion who just couldn't lose, a graceful and elegant and yet powerful strokemaker, who just knew the game inside out. Hence, the farewell was going to be an emotional one but Asif Kapadia (Senna, Diego Maradona) and Joe Sabia end up making a sappy documentary rather than an engaging drama.

India Tv - Roger Federer carefully taping his racquet for one final time

Image Source : PRIME VIDEORoger Federer carefully taping his racquet for one final time

Kapadia, a seasoned documentary filmmaker, known to effortlessly blend drama into the documentary structure of his filmmaking, succeeds and falls short of it in the same breath in 'Twelve Final Days'. There are too few a questions that give insight into the man, the monster he was on the tennis court and how he became one. It's less an absorbing storytelling and more a peak into Federer and almost a highlight reel of his time on the court. A Federer highlight reel still makes for a better watch than many sports documentaries in the past because 'Twelve Final Days ' earns its brownie points with regards to the 'access', the department in which most of the compelling docs excel in.

From the home video in the early parts of the film to the struggles he has had in the recent past with his knee, his time with the family and the kids during that week. The image that will stay with me would be Roger and his father Robert sitting alongside the window in their Swiss home, with quaint whiskey glasses kept adjacent to their either side, Federer's being half full and the senior's empty. Senior Federer sits with his arms crossed, scratching his head while the voiceover goes on in the background about him being on pension and that he has enjoyed seeing his son going on to become what he has from the little kid who they saw playing tennis for the first time and now him wanting him to retreat and hoped that he was content with the decision more than anyone almost saying, 'you deserve it son.' 

Later in the run-up to the Laver Cup, Federer's illustration of two of his fiercest competitors Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, whom he went on to partner with in his final game, probably makes up for the lack of drama or storytelling in the docudrama. One complaint or criticism that Federer had all through his career would be, "Why wouldn’t I fight more when losing?” Federer asks himself with the emergence of Djokovic, the Serbian with raw aggression, who wouldn't give an inch to his opponent. That raw aggression made Djokovic the 24 Grand Slam-winner he is today. 


“Did I have to grunt more, shout, sweat more?" Federer was clueless as to how to go about and he went on to say, "I tried, but it was all an act. That wasn’t my personality.” It's a fair summation of a person, player for whom three ladies from Kenya wearing yellow 'Sisters Trip' tees would come all the way to London just to bid him goodbye. Then there was Nadal, who proved to be a 'mind-bender' for him. "I like being at the top," Federer says as it seemed like the Spaniard stole his imperiality. He didn't like the constant push from Nadal at the throne he made his own and fittingly, the two arch-rivals were hand-in-hand, shot-in-shot, tear-in-tear alongside each other in the former's final moments on the court.

India Tv - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal beside each other in tears

Image Source : GETTYRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal beside each other in tears

'Twelve Final Days' is a breezy watch because of the tender moments like these, but they are too few. A little more time spent with the family, the kids, the parents would have added a bit of heft to the narrative because Kapadia already had a strong subject.

Severin Luthi, Federer's coach quoted 'as they say' while summing up the whole documentary in a nutshell with a gem, "Sports people die twice." The documentary felt more like an eulogy with everyone celebrating Federer's career and reign at the top in professional tennis for almost two decades, staying solid for the most part of those 12 days but eventually letting the emotions get better of themselves. If that's how the first death looks like where Hugh Grant is in attendance, who's who of tennis Rod Laver, McEnroe and Bjorn Borg would line-up to bid you goodbye, that's not a bad culmination, is it?

Federer: Twelve Final Days premieres on Amazon Prime Video on June 20.