Roger Federer’s career may have ended in defeat on Friday, but the five-minute standing ovation that followed was testament to the unique, indelible mark he left on the sport of tennis.
The audience’s admiration, seemingly endless applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger,” brought Federer to tears.
“I’m happy, I’m not sad,” he said after the match, a 6-4 6-7 9-11 defeat to Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe alongside longtime friend and rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup at the O2 in London . Arena.
“I enjoyed tying my shoes one last time. Everything was the last time.”
After 24 years of on-field excellence – more than 1,500 games, 103 singles titles and 20 grand slams – this was Federer’s last competitive game.
The epic tiebreak that sealed the victory for the American pair was a fitting end to not only a match that, despite its intense and often emotional build-up, far exceeded expectations in its grandeur and quality, but also a career that has spawned so many geniuses. moments and brought joy to so many.
For a three-day competition between teams from Europe and the rest of the world that has rarely felt like much more than an exhibition since it started in 2017, the announcement of Federer’s retirement added some welcome prestige to this weekend’s game.
While the competition, with nine direct singles and three doubles matches, may have previously received little global attention, this year’s edition had undoubtedly become one of the biggest tennis events of the year.
This was, of course, largely due to the fact that it was Federer’s swan song, but it also gave tennis fans something they hadn’t seen in years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all healthy and competing at the same time. tournament.
Social media posts from these four superstars in the week leading up to the event would no doubt have left fans feeling nostalgic. The quartet showed genuine warmth to each other, akin to a group of school friends who hadn’t been together for years, as they explored the sights of London.
But perhaps the feelings of nostalgia came not just from the 2022 Laver Cup that marked the end of Federer’s long and storied career, but also from the fact that it finally marked the beginning of the end of the golden tennis era.
With Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all well into their thirties and all with long-term injuries at some point during their careers, their eventual retirement now looms large in the sport.
These four players – “the big 3 plus some clown,” as Murray comically put it on his own Instagram page – will officially never grace the same tournament again.
Where Federer’s on-court performance ranks among the greats in the men’s game will be up for debate – although he is undoubtedly in the top three – there is no doubt that he is the most transcendent tennis player to ever pick up a racket.
Largely because of the way he played the game, no one else in the sport has gained the worldwide adoration, the approvals, or become a cultural icon like the gentle Swiss superstar.
For most of his career, Federer seemed to slide across the court instead of running, his locks flowing and bouncing above his headband, while his insanely aesthetic one-handed backhanded became arguably the most iconic and recognizable shot tennis ever.
More importantly, the beauty of his playing – at the height of his prowess – brought unprecedented success. He became the first player to surpass Pete Sampras’ previous men’s record of 14 grand slams titles, and then became the first to reach the milestone of 20.
While Nadal and Djokovic may now have surpassed his grand slam total, the epic battles Federer had with these two players during his career have only added to his legacy.
On another day, the three games leading up to Federer’s final farewell may have been remarkable in their own right – Muray vs. Alex De Minaur was a particularly compelling encounter – but today felt like a warm-up for the main event.
By the end of the second set of Murray’s match against De Minaur – which the Australian won in a third set tiebreak to earn Team World’s first point of the day – Federer had donned his shorts and headband in the dug- out of Team Europe and seemed poised to go to court, which only added to the anticipation steadily growing in the arena.
In the interview on De Minaur’s court after the game, he shared how he would be cheering on Team World against Nadal and Federer, which led to the 23-year-old being roundly booed by a crowd who then burst into laughter.
When Federer’s name was finally announced as he took the field, the noise from the crowd was so deafening that it completely drowned out the announcer’s voice before he could introduce the Swiss and his doubles partner Nadal.
The 41-year-old received another thunderous cheer as his performance was read out during the warm-ups, but the loudest roar came when Federer smashed a volley to give him and Nadal their first point of the game.
During most first exchanges, Federer still had a gap in the shots as he carried himself across the field with his trademark grace, but when he chased down a drop shot from Tiafoe that landed not two meters in front of him, the age in Federer’s legs started to kick in. first showing when he struggled to reach the ball.
Not that these moments were common, a remarkable thought given his age and the three knee surgeries he’s had. In fact, as he continued to show remarkable touch – particularly on the net – it’s likely most people in the packed house at the O2 Arena wondered why he retired in the first place.
One moment in particular caused shocked sighs from the crowd as the big screens showed the reruns. While chasing a short ball, Federer squeezed his forehand through the small gap between the net and the post.
They may have lost the point when the ball went under the top of the net, but even in the last game of his career, Federer produced moments most had never seen on a tennis court before.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there still seemed to be a lot of magic left in what many viewers have often described during his career as a wand rather than a racket.
Both Federer and Nadal smiled a lot in the beginning, including a laugh when Federer had clearly misunderstood the plan for the coming point and had to walk back to his partner for another debrief, which led to the Swiss raising his hands sheepishly to apologize.
But as the first set wore on, the mood on the pitch changed as the relentless competitive nature that has made these two players such a force over the years finally began to emerge.
When the pair, affectionately known as “Fedal” by fans, took the first set 6-4, the atmosphere in the arena was on the verge of partying.
But make no mistake, Sock and Tiafoe certainly weren’t happy to turn around and let Federer walk into the sunset with an easy win. The American duo broke service early in the second set as they wanted to ruin the party atmosphere, but Federer and Nadal soon broke back to restore parity.
The best game of the game came with a 5-5 tie as Nadal saved six breakpoints – including one of Federer’s back-to-back smashes that received raucous cheers from the crowd – to put the pair on the brink of the victory.
But Sock then held a tricky service game of his own to take the set to a tiebreak, the first point that Federer – and the entire stadium – thought he had served an ace, but was greeted by a ‘let’ call from the umpire. was booed loudly throughout the arena.
A brilliant tiebreak by the American duo sealed the second set and led to an epic decider.
The drama that wrapped up in the third set — opened a 3-0 lead and squandered by Federer and Nadal, a brutal forehand that slammed Tiafoe into the back of Federer, and an ace from Federer that was greeted with a standing ovation — was fitting. end to an incomparable career.
In the end, it didn’t matter too much that Federer was unable to secure the win and the emotion in his farewell speech – barely able to get through as he spoke of the support his family had given him throughout his career – diminished. also his doubles partner to tears.
“It feels like a party,” Federer said. “It’s exactly what I wanted in the end, exactly what I was hoping for.”