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roger federer

Photo Credit: Times Of India/Wikimedia Commons

Roger Federer "graduated" from tennis in 2022.

Roger Federer will go down in history as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, but his popularity extends far beyond the tennis court. With a reputation as a kind and classy sportsman, a generous philanthropist and and all around "good guy," Federer has gained fans of all ages, even outside of his sport, making him an ideal commencement speaker for one of America's top universities.

Dartmouth' College's class of 2024 got to listen to the tennis great share the three biggest lessons he learned from the sport at their commencement ceremony, and people have been sharing snippets from it on social media.


Federer told the graduates that he left school at 16 to play tennis and "graduated" from tennis in 2022. He said he wanted to share with the students three "tennis lessons" he learned during his career that has helped him transition to life after it, in the hopes that they might help them transition to life out in the world as well.

Lesson 1: Nothing is 'effortless'

"'Effortless' is a myth," he began. "I mean it. I say that as someone who has heard that word a lot. The truth is, I had to work very hard to make it look easy. I spent years whining, swearing (sorry), throwing my racket before I learned to keep my cool."

He shared a story of how an opponent early in his career helped him understand that anyone can excel in the early part of the game, but it takes significant, sustained effort to reach a level where you can play well throughout an entire tournament.

"I didn’t get where I got on pure talent alone," he said. "I got there by trying to outwork my opponents. I believed in myself. But belief in yourself has to be earned…From this day forward, some people are going to assume that because you graduated from Dartmouth, it all comes easy for you. And you know what? Let them believe that, as long as you don’t."

Lesson 2: "It's only a point."

"Let me explain. You can work harder than you thought possible and still lose," he said. "I have."

Federer explained that he always tried not to lose, of course, but sometimes he did. Everyone does, even those at the very top.

He told a story about how he had started to doubt himself after an opponent scored a point against him early in a match, and he had to learn not to let a single lost point get under his skin. Then he used statistics to illustrate his point.

"In the 1,526 singles matches I played in my career, I won almost 80% of those matches," he said. "Now, I have a question for all of you. What percentage of the points do you think I won in those matches? Only 54%. In other words, even top-ranked tennis players win barely more than half of the points they play. When you lose every second point, on average, you learn not to dwell on every shot."

"Here’s why I am telling you this," he continued. "When you’re playing a point, it has to be the most important thing in the world, and it is. But when it’s behind you, it’s behind you. This mindset is really crucial, because it frees you to fully commit to the next point and the next point after that with intensity, clarity and focus."

He shared that whatever games the students play in life, sometimes they're going to lose, and to him, the sign of a champion is learning to master hard moments.

"The best in the world are not the best because they win every point," he said. "It’s because they know they’ll lose, again and again, and have learned how to deal with it."

Lesson 3: Life is bigger than the court.

"Even when I was just starting out, I knew that tennis could show me the world... but tennis could never be the world," he said. "I knew that if I was lucky, maybe I could play competitively until my late 30s—maybe even 41! But even when I was in the top five, it was important to me to have a life, a rewarding life full of travel, culture, friendships, and especially family. I never abandoned my roots, and I never forgot where I came from, but I also never lost my appetite to see this very big world."

Federer shared what it has been like for him to serve the children of South Africa, his mother's homeland, through his foundation that focuses on the education of children across Southern Africa.

"It’s been an honor... and it’s been humbling," he said. "An honor to help tackle this challenge, and humbling to see how complex it is."

He shared that he was only 22 when he started his philanthropy work.

"I was not ready for anything other than tennis. But sometimes you’ve got to take a chance and then figure it out," he said. "Philanthropy can mean a lot of things. It can mean starting a nonprofit, or donating money. But it can also mean contributing your ideas, your time and your energy to a mission that is larger than yourself. All of you have so much to give, and I hope you will find your own, unique ways to make a difference, because life really is much bigger than the court."

Wise words from a wise man. You can find the full transcript of Federer's speech here.