Roger Federer’s career may have ended in defeat on Friday, but the five-minute standing ovation that followed is testament to the unique and indelible mark he left on the sport of tennis.
The crowd’s adulation, seemingly endless applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger”, brought Federer to tears.
“I’m happy, I’m not sad,” he said after the game, a 6-4 6-7 9-11 loss 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 excellence on the court – over 1,500 matches, 103 singles titles and 20 Grand Slams – this was Federer’s last competitive game.
The epic tiebreaker that sealed the victory for the American pair was a fitting end not only to a game that, despite the intense and often emotional build-up, far exceeded expectations in its grandeur and quality, but also to a career that has produced so many moments of genius and brought joy to so many people.
For a three-day competition between teams from Europe and the rest of the world that has rarely been much more than an exhibition since its inception in 2017, the announcement of Federer’s retirement has added welcome prestige to the game this weekend.
While the competition, with nine singles matches and three doubles matches, may not have garnered global attention, this year’s edition has now unquestionably become one of the biggest tennis events in the world. ‘year.
Of course, that was largely because it was Federer’s swan song, but it also offered tennis fans something they hadn’t seen in many years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all healthy and competing together in the same tournament.
Social media posts from these four superstars in the week leading up to the event would no doubt have made fans nostalgic. The quartet showed genuine warmth towards each other, akin to a group of school friends who hadn’t been together for many years, as they explored the landmarks of London.
Perhaps, however, the feelings of nostalgia came not only from the 2022 Laver Cup signaling the end of Federer’s long and storied career, but also from the fact that it finally confirmed the beginning of the end of the golden age of tennis.
With Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all well into their 30s and all suffering long injury absences at some point in their careers, their possible retirements now weigh heavily on the sport.
These four players — “the big 3 plus a clown,” as Murray comically put it on his own Instagram page — will officially never compete in the same tournament again.
Where Federer’s achievements on the pitch rank among the greatest in men’s football 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 racquet.
Largely because of the way he played the game, no one else in the sport has garnered global adoration, endorsements or become a cultural icon quite like the suave Swiss superstar.
For most of his career, Federer appeared to glide across the court rather than scamper, his locks flowing and bouncing above his headband, while his outrageously aesthetic one-handed backhand became arguably the most iconic shot. and the most recognizable tennis has ever seen.
More importantly, the beauty of his game brought – at the height of his powers – unprecedented success. He became the first player to surpass the previous men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, then became the first to achieve the record of 20.
While Nadal and Djokovic may have now surpassed his Grand Slam tally, 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 themselves – Muray against Alex De Minaur was a particularly gripping encounter – but today was like a warm-up for the main event.
By the end of the second set of Murray’s match against De Minaur – which the Aussie won in a decisive third-set match to earn Team World’s first point of the day – Federer had put on his shorts and headband in the Team Europe dugout and looked ready to take to the field, only adding to the anticipation that had gradually built up inside the arena.
In De Minaur’s on-pitch interview after the match, he mentioned how he would be cheering on Team World against Nadal and Federer, which resulted in the 23-year-old being booed by a crowd who then burst into laughter.
When Federer’s name was finally announced as he made his way to 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 resounding cheer as he read about his achievements during warm-ups, but the loudest roar came when Federer hit a volley to give him and Nadal their first game point.
For most of the opening rallies, there was still a zip in Federer’s shots as he carried himself with his signature grace on the court, but when he chased a Tiafoe dropshot that landed less than two meters in front of him, the age in Federer’s legs began. to show for the first time as he struggled to reach the ball.
Not that those moments happened often, a remarkable thought considering his age and the three knee surgeries he’s had. In fact, while he continued to show remarkable touch – at net in particular – it was probably most of the spectators inside the O2 Arena who wondered why he was retiring.
One moment in particular drew shocked gasps from the crowd when the big screens showed the reruns. While chasing a short ball, Federer pressed his forehand through the small gap between the net and the post.
It may have lost them the point, as 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. previously.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there still seemed to be a lot of magic in what many viewers throughout his career often described as a wand instead of a racket.
There were plenty of smiles from Federer and Nadal early on, including a laugh when Federer clearly misunderstood the plan for the upcoming point and had to return to his partner for another debrief, which caused the Swiss to hold on. timidly her hands up. apologize.
But as the first set progressed, the mood on the court changed as the relentless competitive nature that has made these two players such a force over the years finally began to manifest.
When the duo, affectionately nicknamed “Fedal” by fans, won the first set 6-4, the atmosphere inside the arena was on the verge of celebration.
But make no mistake, Sock and Tiafoe were by no means thrilled to turn around and allow Federer to go into the sunset with an easy victory. The American pair broke serve early in the second set as they looked to spoil the party mood, but Federer and Nadal quickly broke serve to restore parity.
The game’s best game came with the scores tied at 5-5, as Nadal saved six break points – including one of Federer’s back-to-back smashes that drew loud cheers from the crowd – to put the pair on the verge of victory.
But Sock then staged his own tricky service game to bring the set to a tiebreak, the first point which Federer – and the whole stadium – thought he had served an ace, only to be met with a “let” call from the referee who was loudly booed by the entire arena.
A brilliant tiebreaker from the American duo sealed the second set and led to an epic decider.
The drama that was packed into the third set – an open and squandered 3-0 lead by Federer and Nadal, a brutal forehand that Tiafoe smashed into Federer’s back and an ace from Federer that was greeted with a standing ovation standing – was a fitting end to an incomparable career.
In the end, it doesn’t matter too much that Federer wasn’t able to pull off the win and the emotion in his farewell speech – barely able to get through talking about the support that his family brought him throughout his career – also reduced his doubles. tearful partner.
“It feels like a celebration,” Federer said. “It’s exactly what I wanted in the end, exactly what I was hoping for.”
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