Roger Federer bid an emotional farewell to tennis after a Laver Cup doubles defeat alongside his long-time rival Rafael Nadal.
It was not to be a final victory for the 20-time Grand Slam champion, with the veteran duo losing 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 11-9 after a close-fought match against the US’ Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe, but that hardly mattered as the crowd and fellow players lined up to celebrate the Swiss player.
He then walked off court to a long ovation from the capacity crowd for the final time as a professional player.
The match was a tight affair, but there was a bit of magic in the third game as Federer sent a forehand down the line with the ball going through the net, to the cheers of everyone in the arena. The team, dubbed Fedal, then saved the first break point of the match to lead 5-4, and then broke the Americans to steal the opening set.
Sock and Tiafoe fought back early in the second set, but Team Europe broke back to level at 3-3. In the 11th game, Federer and Nadal had to save six break points, but they held on, and things ultimately went to a tie-break. However, it was a one-sided affair, with the US dominating to take the match to a deciding set.
The third set swung both ways, and soon the scores were locked at 5-5. The next six points were shared, and the tension kept growing and growing. A match point came Federer and Nadal’s way at 9-8, but the retiring player hit the net with a forehand. The Americans then took the next three points, winning the match – Federer’s 1,750th and final competitive match across singles and doubles.
After the match, everyone wanted to hear the tennis great’s words. And he spoke: “We’ll get through this somehow. Look, it has been a wonderful day. I told the guys I’m happy, I’m not sad. It feels great to be here and I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time.
“Everything was the last time. Funny enough with all the matches, being with the guys, and having family and friends, I didn’t feel the stress so much even if I felt something would go during the match. I am so glad I made it through and the match was great. I couldn’t be happier.They waited to see the end of an era, with a giant applause to celebrate one of the sport’s greatest ever players
“Of course playing with Rafa on the same team, having all the guys here, the legends, Rocket (Rod Laver), Stefan Edberg, thank you.
“It does feel like a celebration to me. I wanted to feel like this at the end and it is exactly what I hoped for so thank you.
“It has been a perfect journey and I would do it all over again.”
He then spent some time paying tribute to his wife Mirka, their four children and his parents, who joined him on court.
He said: “Everyone’s here, the boys and girls. My wife has been so supportive. She could have stopped me a long, long time ago but she didn’t.
“She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing – thank you.
“Being with the guys and having family and friends, I didn’t feel the stress so much even if I felt something would go during the match.
“I am so glad I made it through and the match was great. I couldn’t be happier.”
And that was it. Despite the match finishing at 00:26, and then another half an hour of celebrations, few of those present left before the end. They waited to see the end of an era, with a giant applause to celebrate one of the sport’s greatest ever players as his illustrious career finally concluded.
Federer thanked the fans, his companions and rivals, his family and the sport to which he gave so much – but this was also an opportunity for everyone to thank him, for everything. For his presence, his grace and his style all enhanced tennis, and it’s undeniable that his retirement from the sport will leave a monumental gap.