Roger Federer brings curtain down on his career with one defeat, but still dazzles alongside longtime friend and rival Rafael Nadal



CNN

Roger Federer’s career may have ended in defeat on Friday, but the five-minute standing ovation that followed testified to the unique and indelible mark he left in the sport of tennis.

The flattery of the crowd, seemingly endless applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger,” Federer fell to tears.

“I’m happy, I’m not sad,” he said after the game, a 6-4 6-7 9-11 defeat to Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe along with longtime friend and rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup at the O2. of London Arena.

“I enjoyed tying my shoes one last time. Everything was the last time. ”

After 24 years of excellence on the pitch – more than 1,500 games, 103 singles titles and 20 Grand Slams – this was Federer’s last competitive match.

The epic tiebreak that sealed the victory of the American couple was the worthy conclusion not only of a match that, despite the intense and often emotional accumulation, far exceeded expectations in terms of size and quality, but also a career that has produced so many moments of genius and brought joy to so many.

Team Europe's Roger Federer shows emotion as they acknowledge fans after their last match at the O2 Arena on September 23, 2022 in London, England.

For the three-day competition between teams from Europe and the rest of the world that has rarely felt much more than a show since its inception in 2017, the announcement of Federer’s retirement added some welcome prestige to the game’s play. weekend.

While the competition, with nine head-to-head singles and three doubles matches, may have previously attracted irrelevant global attention, this year’s edition has arguably become one of the biggest tennis events of the year.

Of course, this was largely due to it being Federer’s swan song, but it was also providing tennis fans with something they hadn’t seen in many years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all healthy and competing. together in the same tournament.

The social media posts from these four superstars in the week leading up to the event would no doubt have made fans feel nostalgic. The quartet showed genuine warmth towards each other, similar to a group of schoolmates who hadn’t been together for many years, as they explored London’s landmarks.

Perhaps, though, the feelings of nostalgia came not only from the 2022 Laver Cup which marked the end of Federer’s long and legendary career, but also from the fact that he finally confirmed the beginning of the end of the golden age of tennis. .

With Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all well under way in their 30s and all suffering long absences from injuries at some point in their careers, their eventual retirements now loom over the sport.

These four players – “the big 3 plus a clown,” as Murray comically wrote on his Instagram page – will officially never honor the same tournament again.

Federer serves during Friday's game.

Where Federer’s field results are among the greats of men’s football will be a matter of debate – even if he is undoubtedly in the top three – there is no doubt that he is the most transcendent tennis player to ever hold a racket.

Largely due to the way he played, no one else in the sport has garnered global adoration, sponsorship, or has become a cultural icon like the suave Swiss superstar.

For most of his career, Federer seemed to be gliding on the court rather than running, his locks flowing and bouncing over his headband, while his outrageously aesthetic one-handed backhand has become arguably the most iconic and recognizable shot in tennis. I’ve ever seen.

More importantly, the beauty of his game has resulted in unprecedented success at the height of his powers. He became the first player to break the previous men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, so he became the first to reach the milestone of 20.

Although Nadal and Djokovic may have now surpassed his Grand Slam total, the epic battles Federer has had with these two players throughout his career only added to his legacy.

On another day, the three games leading up to Federer’s final farewell may have been noteworthy in themselves – Muray v Alex De Minaur was a particularly compelling match – but today it felt like the warm-up for the main event.

At the end of the second set of Murray’s match against De Minaur – which the Aussie won at the third set tie break to earn the first Team World point of the day – Federer had worn shorts and a headband on the Team Europe bench and he seemed ready to take the field, adding only the expectation that had constantly accumulated inside the arena.

In De Minaur’s on-pitch interview after the game, he mentioned how he would cheer for Team World against Nadal and Federer, resulting in the 23-year-old being booed harshly by a crowd who then burst out laughing.

Roger Federer of Team Europe on the first day of the Laver Cup at London's O2 Arena on Friday.

When Federer’s name was finally announced as he made his way onto the pitch, the noise from the crowd was so deafening that it completely drowned out the announcer’s voice before he could finish introducing the Swiss and his doubles partner Nadal.

The 41-year-old was greeted with another overwhelming applause as he read his results during the warm-up, but the loudest roar came as Federer pulled away a volley to give him and Nadal the first point of the match.

For most of the opening rallies, there was still a flash in Federer’s shots as he carried his signature grace to the pitch, but when he chased a Tiafoe dropshot that landed within two meters of him, Federer’s leg age began to show for the first time as he struggled to get to the ball.

Not that these moments have happened often, a notable thought given his age and the three knee surgeries he underwent. In fact, as she continued to show extraordinary touch – particularly at net – it is likely that most of the crowd inside the O2 Arena were wondering why she was retiring.

One moment in particular caused a shocked gasp from the crowd when the big screens showed the replays. While chasing a short ball, Federer sticks his forehand into the small gap between the net and the post.

He may have lost the point to them, as the ball passed under the top of the net, but even in the last game of his career Federer produced moments most had never seen before on a tennis court.

Federer poses with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray after a free practice session ahead of the 2022 Laver Cup.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is still a lot of magic left in what many viewers throughout his career have often described as a magic wand instead of a racket.

There were a lot of smiles from both Federer and Nadal at first, including laughter when Federer had clearly misunderstood the plan for the upcoming point and had to go back to his partner for another debrief, resulting in the Swiss having shyly raised his hands to apologize.

But as the first set progressed, the mood on the pitch changed as the relentless competitive nature that made these two players such a force over the years finally began to emerge.

When the pair, affectionately nicknamed “Fedal” by fans, took the first set 6-4, the atmosphere inside the arena was on the verge of party mode.

But make no mistake, Sock and Tiafoe weren’t happy at all to flip over and allow Federer to come out at sunset with an easy win. The American pair broke the serve early in the second set as they tried to spoil the party mood, but Federer and Nadal soon returned to restore parity.

Roger Federer is hoisted after his Laver Cup tennis match.

The best match of the match came with a 5-5 draw, when Nadal saved six break points – including one of Federer’s consecutive hits that drew raucous cheers from the crowd – to put the pair on the brink of winning.

But Sock then held a treacherous serve match to bring the set to the tiebreak, the first point where Federer – and the entire stadium – thought they had served an ace, only to be greeted by a “let” call from the referee who was booed loudly from the entire arena.

A brilliant tie break by the American duo sealed the second set and led to a decisive epic.

The drama that was encapsulated in the third set – an open and wasted 3-0 lead by Federer and Nadal, a brutal forehand that Tiafoe hit in Federer’s back and an ace from Federer that was greeted with a standing ovation – is was the worthy conclusion to an unrivaled career.

In the end, the fact that Federer failed to secure the win didn’t really matter and the excitement in his farewell speech – he barely got over it when he talked about the support his family had given him throughout his career. – he also reduced his double mates to tears.

“It looks like a party,” Federer said. “That’s exactly what I wanted in the end, exactly what I was hoping for.”