LONDON – This match had to come on this day, of course, for Roger Federer and for tennis, just as it must for every athlete in every sport.
Federer bid on Friday night with one last contest before retiring at the age of 41 after an impressive career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and the role of statesman. He ended his days as a professional by losing 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9 in doubles alongside longtime rival Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World. .
The victors, the stats and the score didn’t matter and were all completely off topic. The occasion was, after all, about the farewell itself. Or better yet, farewell: Federer of tennis, to the fans, to 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. 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
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 his last. His surgically repaired right knee – the last three surgeries came shortly after a Wimbledon quarter-final loss in July 2021, which will go down as his last official singles match – 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.”
Two hours before Friday’s game, Federer tweeted: “I’ve done this a thousand times, but this match feels different. Thanks to everyone who’s coming over tonight.”
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. Spectators remained on their feet for nearly 10 minutes, during the pre-match warm-up, holding overhead phone cameras to capture the moment.
They came ready to roar for him, some carrying Swiss flags, some carrying homemade banners, and they made themselves heard by a wall of sound as Federer hit a forehand winning aerial ball on the second point of the game. 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.
Doubles require less movement and court coverage, of course, so the pressure on his knee was limited on Friday. Federer showed off touches of his old flair, sure, and rust, as expected.
While his parents and wife were sitting in the front row seats behind the baseline, there were a couple of early forehands that sailed several feet very long. 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 it was a glorious fair, the four participants all played as if they wanted to win. It was evident when Sock jumped and screamed after a particularly great shot or when Tiafoe sent a few straight shots to Federer and Nadal.
But circumstances allowed moments of emaciation.
Federer and Nadal were able to laugh after a bit of confusion over who should go for the ball at a point they lost. After Nadal somehow hit a one-back shot into the net around the post, only for it to land just barely wide, Tiafoe crossed to extend his hand with congratulations on the effort.
In the first set, the game’s greats couldn’t hear each other between the points, so Federer jogged from the net to the baseline to consult with Nadal, then pointed to his ear to point out to the fans what the problem was. .
Prior to Federer, he was the men’s tag for most of the 14 major tennis tournaments 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 equaled by Nadal, now with 22, and Novak Djokovic, with 21, then surpassed. As part of the golden age of sports.
Federer’s primary biography includes 310 weeks at #1 in the ATP rankings, Davis Cup title and Olympic medals. In addition to being elegant and efficient while using the racket, his personality made Federer a tennis ambassador, someone whose massive popularity helped draw fans in.
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.
“Two ‘goats’ are playing together,” said Sock, using the popular abbreviation for ‘the greatest of all time.’
The farewell comes after Serena Williams, the 23rd major singles champion, died at the US Open three weeks ago after a third-round loss. 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 the players will miss him,” said Casper Rudd, who beat Sock in the singles 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.
The other results, which left Team Europe and Team World tied 2-2: Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 in a match that was halted briefly when an environmental protester set fire to part of the field and his arm. , Alex de Minaur passed 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 strategic advice.
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, winning eight times, from 2005-07. He extended that through 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 amazingly efficient serve, the enthusiasm to hit the net, the desire to reinvent aspects of his game and – the proudest part – unparalleled longevity. Normal.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see another man like Roger,” said Tiafoe. “The way he played, the grace he used, and who he is as an individual.”
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