Sports

Men’s Tennis Is Losing Its Most Popular Star in Roger Federer

More than 1 in 4 men’s tennis fans say they are actually more interested in watching the sport once the Swiss legend retires, according to a new survey

Photograph of Roger Federer at the Wimbledon Championships
Roger Federer waves at the Wimbledon Championships in London on July 3. Federer, who announced his retirement earlier this month, was named the most popular men's tennis player in a new Morning Consult survey. (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Professional tennis is losing two of its greatest and most popular athletes of all time — both within the span of a month. 

Roger Federer announced his retirement in mid-September, saying he hopes to play one final doubles match at this weekend’s Laver Cup in London. That followed the retirement of 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who is by far the most popular women’s tennis player of all time, according to a recent Morning Consult survey.

New Morning Consult data shows that Federer, too, is a fan favorite. More than 7 in 10 self-identified men’s tennis fans (73%) said they either have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the Swiss tennis legend, making him the most popular men’s tennis player. The departure of Federer, who became the first tennis player to amass $1 billion across his prize money, endorsements and appearances fees, adds to a growing list of retired men’s players who remain among the most popular with fans. 

Like women’s tennis, the men’s game is in search of its next must-watch stars who can draw viewers. With Federer’s retirement, nearly 1 in 5 men’s tennis fans (18%) said they are now less interested in watching the sport, but 28% said they’re now more interested, suggesting there’s still some optimism around the sport’s future.

Roger Federer Is the Most Popular Men’s Tennis Player

The share of men’s tennis fans who said they have a favorable opinion of the following active and former players:

Survey conducted Sept. 18-19, 2022, among a representative sample of 700 self-identified men’s tennis fans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

Federer narrowly bests Nadal as most popular men’s tennis star 

  • Behind Federer, Spaniard Rafael Nadal and retired American Andre Agassi each had the next highest favorability rating (69%), followed by retired Americans Pete Sampras (66%) and ESPN tennis broadcaster John McEnroe (65%) to round out the top five. Half of the eight most popular men’s tennis players are retired, with the remaining players — Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic — all likely in the twilight of their careers.
  • No. 1 world-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who won the 2022 U.S. Open earlier this month to claim his first Grand Slam, tied for 10th overall in the survey with a favorability rating of 43%, 1 percentage point lower than American Frances Tiafoe. Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, defeated the 24-year-old Tiafoe in the U.S. Open semifinals in a battle of rising men’s tennis stars.
  • Norwegian Casper Ruud, who lost to Alcaraz in four sets in the U.S. Open final, scored a rating of 37%, tying him for 18th overall. 
1 in 3 Sports Fans Are Less Interested in Watching Men’s Tennis Without Roger Federer

Respondents were asked how interested they would be in watching men’s tennis once Federer retires

Survey conducted Sept. 18-19, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

How interest in a tennis landscape without Roger Federer stacks up 

  • About 1 in 3 U.S. adults (34%) and self-identified sports fans (31%) said they are less interested in watching men’s tennis without Federer. Those shares were similar when fans were asked about their interest in the sport once Williams retires
  • About 2 in 5 men’s tennis fans (41%) said Federer’s retirement has a “major impact” on their decision to watch professional men’s tennis in the future, compared to 36% of sports fans and 34% of adults.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 men’s tennis fans (28%) said they are more interested in watching the sport without Federer — nearly double the share of tennis fans who said the same about Williams (15%).

The future of men’s tennis is bright 

The U.S. Open semifinal contest between Alcaraz and Tiafoe averaged 3.1 million viewers, making it the tournament’s most-watched match, excluding Williams’ two final matches. Despite men’s tennis losing its most popular player, the future of the sport remains promising, thanks to a young group of up-and-coming stars

The Sept. 18-19, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, including 1,611 self-identified sports fans, both with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The survey also included 700 self-identified men’s tennis fans, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Morning Consult