Even in retirement, Roger Federer’s popularity in China shows no sign of waning.
The former World No. 1 and 103-time tour-level titlist was honored Friday at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, where Chinese fans had the chance to pay tribute to the Swiss great for the first time since his retirement in September 2022.
Federer was presented with an Icon Athlete Award in a ceremony that also featured home WTA legend Li Na and the No. 1 Chinese player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Zhang Zhizhen.
“It’s been great to see tennis grow in China. One icon is standing here and a future superstar in the making there,” said Federer of Li and Zhang, the latter of whom this year became the first home player to reach the fourth round at Shanghai’s Masters 1000 event.
As well as taking selfies with excited fans from the middle of the court, Federer also took to the microphone to discuss his delight at returning to an event where he racked up a 23-6 record and won the title in 2014 and 2017.
Federer beat his great rival Rafael Nadal in the championship match to claim the second of his Shanghai crowns, the third time the pair had clashed in the Chinese city. Federer also overcame the Spaniard at the 2006 and 2007 editions of the Nitto ATP Finals, then held in Shanghai and known as the Tennis Masters Cup. Federer went on to win the season-ending event in both years
“I played Rafa on so many occasions, not in every tournament I played but almost in all the big matches around the world and I’m happy we could do it here, not just once but three times,” reflected Federer when asked about his 6-4, 6-3 final win in 2017. “It’s even more special if it’s in a final. I thought I played extremely well in that match… I played a fantastic tournament and a fantastic year when I came back [after] my knee problem.
“For me it was a dream year and I believe it was the last time I won the Rolex Shanghai Masters, so of course it’s forever special. It was a terrific week, and I loved the battles I had with Rafa. I’m happy I won the final here that year.”
Federer rides the Shanghai Metro in 2017.
Federer’s popularity in China was demonstrated early in his career when he was given the honour of opening the Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena, home to the Shanghai event, in 2005. He famously also surprised a group of Shanghai commuters in 2017, when he hopped onto a Metro train to travel to the Masters 1000 event.
“Ever since I showed up here as a teenager in 2002, maybe I even had a ponytail, I looked different, I played different, but I got so many fans, I feel like, from the first moment I came,” said Federer. “I feel like I got the most incredible support here in Shanghai and in China. I’ve been very fortunate to play here for so many years.”