The Swiss tennis legend had just come back from a sightseeing trip in Japan this past week and jetted in China and in one of the cities he reigned supreme on two occasions during his playing career. Federer won the title in Shanghai in 2014 and 2017.
Federer's on-court presentation happened just before the second quarterfinal of the day between Andrey Rublev and Ugo Humbert and was live-streamed on the tournament's official YouTube channel. The 20-time Grand Slam champion was joined on stage by Chinese stars of past and present.
International Tennis Hall of Famer and retired WTA star Li Na and current China's No. 1 on the men's tour Zhang Zhizhen made their way onto the court. Federer was quick to acknowledge the overwhelming support he had received in Shanghai ever since he marked his debut in the city as a ponytailed teenager in the early 2000s at the ATP Finals.
"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. 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."
Federer would also praise the evolution of Chinese tennis when he addressed the crowd, which has witnessed a major resurgence this season. The Swiss called Zhang a "future star in the making" in the wake of becoming the first home player to reach the fourth round of the Shanghai Masters this week.
The 42-year-old tennis icon was hugged by a lion mascot, took selfies with exuberant fans, and even managed to catch up with a former opponent Andrey Rublev in action in the quarterfinals.