A highlight of the week for tennis fans in Halle was a visit from Roger Federer.
The 10-time tournament champion received an award for special services to the Halle ATP 500.
The ceremony took place on centre court, with Federer entering the arena through a guard of honour from ball kids and a hug from tournament mascot Gerry Berry.
The packed crowd gave him a standing ovation of several minutes, as his father Robert watched on.
Despite invitations from other events, this was the first time Federer attended a tournament since he announced his retirement from the tour in September last year, due to a knee injury that just wouldn’t recover enough to allow him to play at the élite level.
Here in Halle, he looked as fit and tanned as in his playing days.
Presented with flowers by a ball girl while also holding his award, Federer joked “I’m not too old yet” to hold both at the same time.
He last won the tournament in 2019 and his record stands at 69 wins and 8 losses. From 2003 to 2006, he won Halle and Wimbledon back to back.
Most of his trophies are engraved “Gerry Weber Open”, though his 2019 victory was as the Noventi Open champion. Now, in its 30th year, the tournament is the second edition of the Terra Wortmann Open.
In his six minute acceptance speech, made in German without notes, Federer mentioned Tommy Haas (who beat him for the 2012 title in the friendliest defeat). He said Haas asked him before the ceremony if he had thought of arriving dressed as Gerry Berry and then revealing his true identity. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Federer explained that his lifetime contract with the tournament represented the trust between the event organisers and him. He revealed that whenever he and tournament director Ralf Weber are in the same part of the world, their families get together for a meal and a chat.
He spoke of his bachelor days at the tournament, when he would drive from Basel to Halle. In those days, he would go to the local sports grounds to exercise and then come back to watch the matches.
Later, he would travel with his family and “so much luggage, to occupy about 10 rooms” in the courtside hotel. He got to know the village of Halle well through “family trips to the local parks and forests”.
His children would always be excited about going to Halle. “You don’t need New York or Paris to feel good. They thought it was cool to just go into the forest here in Halle, to be in nature.”
Eventually though, they had to stay home for school.
After the presentation, Federer signed autographs and posed for selfies with hundreds of fans.
It took an hour and a half but he spent time with every fan in the queue.
He had ended his speech to the crowd by saying it was “quite emotional to talk to so many people about my life and future.”
Then he added, determinedly, “We will see each other again.”