London – This match had to come, of course, for Roger FedererAnd for tennis, just as it inevitably should for every athlete in every sport.
Federer performed Friday night in one last competition before retiring at the age of 41 after an impressive career spanning nearly a quarter century that included 20 Grand Slam titles and the role of statesman. He ended his days as a professional with a loss in doubles alongside his longtime rival Rafael Nadal Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Francis Tiafoe And the Jack Sock world team.
The truth is that the victors, the statistics and the score (well, for the record it was 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9) didn’t matter, and they were all completely off target. The occasion was, after all, about the farewell itself. Or better, farewell, combination: Federer of tennis, for the fans, for his rivals and teammates. And, of course, farewell to both of these entities to Federer.
“It was a perfect ride,” Federer said. “I will do it again.”
When the match ended, and with it, his time in professional tennis, Federer hugged Nadal, then Tiafoe and Sock. Then Federer started crying. There were many tears. Nadal wiped himself away too.
“When Roger leaves the tour, an important part of my life will also leave,” said Nadal, 36, who used the words “sad” and “unforgettable” to describe the occasion.
With cascades of applause and shouts of affection cascading from the stands, Federer put his hands on his hips, his chest rising. Then he said, “Thanks,” while clapping straight back toward the spectators who chanted, “Let’s go, Roger! Let’s go!” During the closing moments of the match, which lasted more than two hours and ended at around 12:30 AM
His wife, Mirka, their four children – twins, twins and two boys – and Federer’s parents joined the court afterwards for hugs and, yes, some more screaming. Members of both teams joined together to lift Federer into the air.
“It was a great day,” Federer said. “I told the players I’m happy; I’m not sad.” “I enjoyed tying my shoes again. Everything was the last time.”
The Swiss star announced last week that the three-day team event, founded by his management company, would be his last event before retirement, then made it clear that the doubles outing would be the last match. His surgically repaired right knee – his last three surgeries came shortly after his Wimbledon quarter-final loss in July 2021, which will go down with his official exit in the singles – is not in a state to continue.
For me, personally, [it was] Sad at the first moment, when I came to the conclusion, Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week about his feelings when he realized it was time to go. “I kept it at first, then fought it off. But I felt the pain.”
He said he wanted this to look more like a party than a funeral, and the crowd had to stand in a long standing ovation when Federer and Nadal – each in white handkerchiefs, blue shirts and white shorts – appeared together from a tunnel leading to pitch black for the last game on day one. At the O2 Arena. They remained afloat for nearly 10 minutes, during the pre-match warm-up, holding high phone cameras to capture the moment.
They came prepared to roar for him, some carrying Swiss flags, some carrying homemade banners (one word for “Idol Forever” reads one), and they made themselves heard by a wall of sound as Federer hit a winning ball with a forehand on the second point of the match. Similar reactions arrived once the president’s referee announced before Roger Federer’s third serve match, and again when he finished that match with a 117 mph serve winner.
Sock said, using the biggest acronym of all time.
Doubles require less movement and court coverage, of course, so pressure on Federer’s knee was limited on Friday.
“Honestly,” he said, acknowledging that at the start of the match there were the kinds of nerves he would have been feeling before the Grand Slam final, “I was very surprised at how much I could play tonight.”
He showed off touches of his old flair, to be sure, and touches of rust, as expected.
There were a couple of early forehands that sailed several feet long too. There was also a forehand that slipped between Sock and Tiafoe and looked too good to be true – and it turns out it was: the ball moved through a gap under the net bar and thus the point was taken out by Federer and Nadal.
Although this match was essentially a glorified show, all four participants played as if they wanted to win. That was evident when Sock, the 29-year-old three-time doubles champion, yelled after a particularly impressive shot or when Tiafoe, 24, sent a few straight shots to Federer and Nadal.
There were moments of mystery.
Federer and Nadal were able to laugh after a bit of confusion over who should go for the ball at their losing point. After Nadal somehow hit a one-back shot to goal around the post, only to land it barely wide, US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe crossed to extend his hand with congratulations for the effort.
In the first set, the older duo couldn’t quite hear each other between points, so Federer rushed off the net to the baseline to consult with Nadal, then pointed to his ear to indicate the problem.
Before Federer began winning Grand Slam titles in 2003, he was the men’s tag for most of the 14th Grand Slam by Pete Sampras. Federer surpassed it, collecting eight at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the US Open and one at the French Open, and set a new standard for Nadal, now with 22, and Novak Djokovicwith 21, equalized, then transcended, as part of the sport’s golden age.
Certainly, there are those who would have found it particularly fitting to see Federer finish the net from Nadal, often an opponent on the field but ultimately a friend off the field. Perhaps it could have happened about 15 miles away in the All England Club’s central court, for example, or at Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros, or Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park, or even Arthur Ashe Stadium, the centerpiece of the US Open. . , the only Grand Slam tournament they’ve never faced, in a way.
Perhaps they could have provided everyone with one last boost of a head-to-head match as memorable as any in the long history of their sport – or indeed, any other.
Roger vs. Rafa – only one name is required – belongs to McEnroe vs. Borg (as it happens, Laver Cup captains, Jon and Bjorn), Evert vs. Navratilova, Sampras vs. Agassi, Ali vs. Fraser, Magic vs. Bird, Brady vs. Manning, and so on.
Over the years, Federer and Nadal have shown individual greatness and compelling contrasts across 40 games, 14 in Grand Slam tournaments, nine in Grand Finals: right vs left, striker vs treadmill, seeming effortless vs relentless intensity.
However, there was an unmistakable poetic element with these two men challenging each other and raising each other in the role of partners, slapping their paws and exchanging smiles.
This farewell follows that of Serena Williams, the 23-times major singles champion, won the US Open three weeks ago after losing the third round. It leaves questions about the future of the game that it has dominated and overtaken for decades.
One key difference: Every time Williams has served court in New York, the looming question has been how long her stay will last – the prospect of a “win or that is”.
Friday was the case for Federer, regardless of the outcome.
“All players will miss him,” he said. Casper Roadwho beat Sock in the singles 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.
Other results of the day, which left Team Europe and Team World tied 2-2: Stefanos Tsitsipas Defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 in a match that was interrupted briefly when an environmental protester set part of the field on fire and his arm, and Alex de Minor transcend Britain’s Andy Murray 5-7, 6-3, 10-7.
Set to start playing shortly after the end of Murray’s loss, Federer and Nadal first gave him some training advice, then watched part of it on TV together in a room on the field, waiting for their turn. When Federer and Nadal were at work, it was Djokovic’s turn to suggest strategy.
The last shout came after a total of 103 singles titles and 1,251 singles match wins for Federer, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open Era, which began in 1968.
At the height of his power, Federer appeared in 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals, a record, and won eight, from 2005 to 2007. That extended into 2010, reaching 18 of 19 major finals.
More than these numbers, people will remember the powerful forehand, the one-handed backhand, the flawless footwork, the astonishingly efficient serve, the enthusiasm to hit the net, the desire to reinvent aspects of his game and – the part of which he is proud – unparalleled longevity. Normal. In addition to being elegant and efficient while using the racket, Federer’s personality made him a tennis ambassador, someone whose immense popularity helped entice fans.
“This is not the end, you know. Life goes on. I’m healthy, I’m happy, everything is fine, and this is just a moment in time,” Federer said.