Roger Federer ended his professional career today after playing a doubles at the Laver Cup alongside his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal. The pair lost 6-4, 6-7, 9-11 to the American team of Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. SI’s Jon Wertheim and Chris Almeida reflect on Federer’s retirement, his last game and his legacy.
Jon Wertheim: We all thought this would end in England, but not in an indoor arena, but probably at a prestigious grass event that he has won more than anyone else.
Chris Almeida: Probably also singles.
JW: Right, we all assumed he would only be on his side of the net. That said, there is some symbolism to the end of Roger Federer’s career at an event named after the last man to win the Grand Slam while sharing half the field with his biggest rival. One of the ways Federer paved the way was by showing that an adversary doesn’t have to be an enemy. It’s appropriate that he plays with someone who pushed him and challenged him and…
CA: And took a lot from him! And he could get over that.
JW: Precisely. If Rafa Nadal follows his uncle and plays football, you could say Federer would have 40 major titles. And you could also say that Federer won’t stay in his 40s without Nadal. It’s a great case study of rivalry. Nadal took away some of those titles, but he probably gave Federer something too.
CA: A lot of the adjustments Federer made to his game in the, I want to say late, but really, I mean the second half of his career, was Nadal-driven. The Sneak Attack By Roger, the 2017 backhand flattening to take away that high, spidery ball…even the racket switch he made about a decade ago wasn’t in a small part meant to deal with that in a certain way. heavy topspin to go the old 90 square inch head couldn’t.
It’s fitting that they wrap this up together. I know it’s not the first time it’s happened, but still, Federer is ending his career playing of a rival at an event he led that brings many of the top executives to an event that they all seem to really love, it’s character.
JW: Yes, this is his baby. It’s an event named after Rod Laver, the teams are led by John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg… it’s about the past, present and future. It’s more about the pedigree of tennis than any player, which is in line with Federer.
CA: Leave it to him to set up this event that is… usually credit everyone else.
Anyway, we have to talk about the match itself. It was actually quite exciting. And before we really get into it, an aside: Jack Sock is very good. I guess that’s no surprise to someone who follows doubles, but he rarely gets a spotlight like this, so good for him.
But yeah, you just tweeted that Federer didn’t seem compromised. To be fair, he certainly didn’t look great, but certainly at the age of 41 after a year and a half layoff, things could have been a lot worse.
JW: If you had told Roger Federer that he would be playing his last game and be a takeaway… damn, Jack Sockwell, that’s certainly not how I would have seen the story end, but that’s why we love sports.
For a man who hadn’t played in over a year, Federer more than held his own. Nadal was more nervous than I’ve ever seen him. The whole thing was a bit weird. It’s after midnight in London. It was double. It was in this league that vigorously tries not to be an exhibition, but it also doesn’t really have the feel of a conventional tournament. A little weird, but fun.
And it kind of reminds me of Serena where it started where you think: I hope this isn’t embarrassing. And then you keep thinking Boy, I don’t know, there’s still some tennis talent out there. That didn’t look like a player on his last legs.
CA: He looked solid, especially from the back of the field. The foundations looked really good, his movement looked good. At the net his volleys looked a little sloppy and he seemed a little hesitant about knocking off the knee but it was a pretty good performance against arguably the best doubles player in the world and Tiafoe who is a bona fide force in singles . So this wasn’t just a stand against suckers.
JW: Yes, and Federer and Nadal gave them a good 20 years.
CA: Oh, now Roger is crying. What a guy he is, of course.
JW: Rafa also cries.
CA: utilities That is something I can’t remember seeing it before.
JW: If we were to say that the great contribution of Serena Williams to the sport was that she really expanded the possibilities and expanded the demographics of tennis. It may be Federer’s contribution that he turned this individual sport into a team sport and he showed that you can be really good and still be nice.
CA: That it was okay to be happy.
JW: One of the great legacies of his career is that he showed that you could like the person on the internet. He showed that you could be very, very good and also very nice.
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