Roger Federer’s tennis career is officially over. He could not quite finish with a win, but he continued to produce special memories as he bowed out at the end of the opening day of the 2022 Laver Cup in London, partnering Rafael Nadal in doubles before an on-court celebration of his exceptional achievements on an emotionally-charged night at the O2 Arena.
This is not the end-end, you know, life goes on. I’m healthy, I’m happy, everything’s great, and this is just a moment in time. Roger Federer
Federer and Nadal were eventually beaten by Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 11-9 in a contest lasting 2 hours 13 minutes and stretching well beyond midnight. Although they held a match point at 9-8 in the deciding match tie-break, Federer was just unable to execute a difficult forehand he had to reach for, and subsequently he did not manage to win another point.
Nevertheless, he refused to be too downcast by having to bow out with a defeat, instead emphasising his gratitude for the appreciation shown by his fellow Laver Cup players and a vociferously affectionate capacity crowd of around 17,500 inside the O2 Arena, which included the competition patron Rod Laver, Federer’s former coach Stefan Edberg, and the injured Alexander Zverev.
“It feels like a celebration, it’s exactly what I wanted at the end” Federer insisted, and he further emphasised: “It’s been a wonderful day. I told the guys I’m happy, I’m not sad” before adding: “It’s been a perfect journey. I would do it all over again.”
Partly there was relief, as afterwards he admitted that his participation in the Laver Cup this week was in serious doubt right up to the final few days, because he was unsure whether his physical condition would allow him to even play in a pair with an experienced and supportive partner such as Nadal: “That I played at the end, it was 50/50… Honestly I was so surprised how well I was able to play tonight. So I just enjoyed it. It was great throughout.”
Federer also shared his internal anxieties with the crowd, telling them: “Funnily enough, with all the matches, and having the guys, and being here with fans, family, friends, I didn’t feel the stress so much. Even though I did think that something was going to go, pop a calf, or lock the back, or something, in the match. I’m so happy I made it through. And the match was great, I couldn’t be happier. It’s been wonderful.”
His record of avoiding a retirement in any of the 1,750 competitive contests of his career, made up of 1,526 singles and 224 doubles matches, might be the most remarkable of all his impressive achievements, and his delight at completing that run at the O2 Arena outweighed the disappointment of failing to repeat the victory which he and Nadal managed on their only previous doubles together in the Laver Cup in 2017.
However, Federer was prepared to reveal that his experience of the occasion was not an entirely smooth one: “It came in phases today. Some moments I was horribly nervous like before big finals, then some other moments I totally forgot about it because I was with the guys and we were joking. Classic goofiness comes through, and you forget about everything and have a good conversation.
“You forget that actually, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m about to play in 15 minutes’. That’s kind of how I always used to be. The last 2 days have been tough, you know, to say the least. Thankfully in moments I totally forgot about it, slept great, everything was wonderful, I could enjoy it, I feel. And because of that I think I will be able to have a better recollection of how it went, because if it’s all just stress throughout and I want it to be perfect, I know I would only remember half of it.
“So, because I felt the way I felt – and because I feel like I have dealt with my retirement strongly for the last month – I felt I was actually able to handle the situation pretty well. I know some people on my team and in my close circle have not gone through the same emotions maybe prior to tonight. That’s why, for them, it was extremely difficult probably to go through tonight.
“But I felt overall I did okay, even though, yeah, sure, I was crying, too. For me, I didn’t have fireworks in my head where I see my career flashing by, all the things I’m going to miss. This was weeks ago. Back then, it was hard for me making phone calls, letting people know that this decision is happening. There I felt pain, but now, tonight was all happiness.”
Of course the tears flowed from him as well as many others among those present, including Nadal, several of whose own family joined him in London to share the Federer farewell. Perhaps the defining image of the night came when Ellie Goulding performed a couple of songs live to conclude the celebrations at the end of the evening, and Roger and Rafa sat alongside each other at courtside, crying together.
The Laver Cup will continue without them at the O2 Arena, as Nadal flies home to his pregnant wife. Matteo Berrettini and Cameron Norrie come in to replace them for Team Europe, with the competition level at 2-2 after the 1st day. Sock and Tiafoe’s success completed an evening comeback by Team World, having fallen behind 2-0 following the opening afternoon singles rubbers.
Casper Ruud started the 3-day competition by beating Sock 6-4, 5-7, 10-7 in 1 hour 47 minutes, in a match between the highest and lowest ranked players in this year’s Laver Cup, at 2 and 128 respectively. Stefanos Tsitsipas then overcame Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 in 1 hour 16 minutes, with his dominant display being a reminder of his career highlight to date, when he won the ATP Finals in 2019 at the same venue.
The best contest among the initial exchanges came between the 2 debutants, as Andy Murray battled superbly before succumbing to Alex de Minaur. Although the Australian, at 23 years old, is 12 years younger than the Briton, it took him 2 hours 28 minutes to make his age advantage tell and eventually prevail 5-7, 6-3, 10-7. The day’s longest match was one of 3 out of the 4 to be decided by a match tie-break.
Ultimately, the Friday at the 2022 Laver Cup will inevitably always be remembered for Federer‘s last competitive appearance on a tennis court. It was undoubtedly unforgettable. But, one last time, he also managed to put it into perspective: “This is not the end-end, you know, life goes on. I’m healthy, I’m happy, everything’s great, and this is just a moment in time.”