Roger Federer bids farewell alongside Nadal in the final game

LONDON (AP) – This day, this game, of course had to come Roger Federerand for tennis, as it inevitably has to be for every athlete in every sport.

Federer said goodbye Friday night with one final competition ahead of him retires at the age of 41 after an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a role as statesman for tennis. He played a Doubles alongside his rival Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock from Team World.

“For me personally, it was sad at first moment when I came to the conclusion that it’s the best decision,” Federer said of his emotions in an interview with The Associated Press this week at realizing it was time to walk . “I kind of held it back at first and then fought back. But I could feel the pain.”

He said he wanted this to feel more like a party than a funeral, and the crowd followed Friday and rose to a loud and prolonged standing ovation as Federer and Nadal – each wearing a white bandana, blue shirt and white shorts – emerged together from a tunnel leading to the black court for the final match of day one of the three-day team event at the O2 Arena. Spectators stayed on their feet for almost 10 minutes during the pre-game warm-up, holding up cell phone cameras to capture the moment.

a few hours before Federer tweeted: “I’ve done this a thousand times, but this time it feels different. Thank you to everyone who is coming tonight.”

They came ready to roar for him, some with Swiss flags, some with homemade signs, and they made themselves known with a baffle as Federer delivered a forehand volley winner on the second point of the game. Similar reactions came only to the chair umpire’s announcement before the third game – “Roger Federer to serve” – ​​and when he finished that game with a serve winner at 117mph.

Federer announced last week that the Laver Cup, set up by his management company, would be his last event before retiring and then clarified that the doubles match would be his last match. His surgically repaired right knee – the latest of three surgeries, came shortly after a defeat in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in July 2021, which will go down in history as his last official singles match – is in no shape to allow him to continue.

The doubles, of course, requires a lot less movement and space coverage, so Friday’s stress on his knee was limited. Federer did show traces of his old flair and, as expected, rust.

There were a few early foreshands that sailed several feet too long. There was also a forehand that slipped right between Sock and Tiafoe that seemed too good to be true – and it turned out to be it: the ball traveled through a gap under the netting tape and so Federer and Nadal became the one point taken away. A moment of ease came later in the first set, which Federer and Nadal claimed 6-4 when the two greats of the game couldn’t quite hear each other between the points. Federer trotted back to the baseline from the net to confer with Nadal, then pointed to his ear to signal fans what the problem was.

If there were breaks in the matches in front of him, Federer wandered to the stands and signed autograph after autograph – on program booklets, tennis balls, whatever the spectators pushed him.

“The crowd was electrified,” Sock said after losing Friday afternoon’s opening match to two-time Grand Slam runner-up from 2022 Casper Ruud 6-4, 5-7, 10-7. “I can only imagine how it will be for the rest of the weekend. And of course tonight with… two of the ‘GOATs’ playing together.”

The second game was briefly interrupted when an environmental protest came to the pitch and ignited part of the playing surface and his arm on fire before being carried away by security forces.

“I’ve never had an incident like this on the pitch,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 to give Team Europe a 2-0 lead.

Just before Ruud vs. Sock started, Federer got up from a black couch just on the touchline and walked over to offer a pat on Ruud’s shoulder. During the singles match of the Night Session, where Alex de Minaur defeated Andy Murray 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 to reduce Team World’s deficit to 2-1, both Federer and the 22-timer bid Major Champion Nadal coaching advice.

Federer and Nadal, who were due to start playing shortly after Murray’s defeat ended, watched part of it together on TV in a room in the arena and waited their turn.

Those lucky enough to have tickets came from all over, no distance too far, no cost too great.

“I have such mixed feelings about it,” said Indrani Maitra, a 49-year-old from India. “I’m really glad I can catch his last match. But I’m really sad that this is his last match.”

She arrived with her daughter, Anushka Verma, a 19-year-old student at the University of California, Berkeley, for what they said was the first time they were watching live tennis. Both wore blue hats for the occasion, Maitras with Federer’s “RF” badge, Vermas with Nadal’s bull horn logo.

This farewell follows that of Serena Williams, the owner of 23 major singles championships, at the US Open three weeks ago after a third-round loss. It leaves questions about the future of a game he and she have dominated and surpassed for decades.

One key difference: Every time Williams stood trial in New York, the question arose as to how long her stay would last — a “win or that’s it” perspective. Friday WAS it for Federer no matter the result.

The Laver Cup, now in its fifth edition, was established by Federer’s management company and uses a very different format from a standard tournament. So a win for him and Nadal would not mean advancing to another round.

“All the players,” said Ruud, “will miss him.”

“Roger is a unicorn in our sport,” Tsitsipas said this week. “He has all my respect, all my appreciation for what he brought to tennis today. It is something that will surely not be forgotten for thousands of years. He has that charisma and purity and aura about him that has made him kind of invincible on the pitch.”

Tiafoe’s opinion of Federer was similar: “I don’t think we will see another guy like Roger, how he played and with what grace he did it and who he is as an individual.”

The final hooray comes after 103 total tour-level titles on Federer’s extensive résumé and 1,251 singles-match wins, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era that began in 1968. Federer’s records include being the oldest No.1 in ATP rankings history – he returned to the top in 2018 at 36 – and most consecutive weeks there (his total weekly mark has been eclipsed by Novak Djokovic) .

At the peak of his powers, Federer appeared in a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals from 2005-2007, winning eight. Track it back to 2010 and he reached 18 out of 19 major finals.

More than the numbers, people will remember the powerful forehand, one-handed backhand and flawless footwork, a spectacularly effective serve and eagerness to get to the net, a willingness to reinvent aspects of his game, and – the part, on whom he is proudest – remember unusual longevity. Then there is his person outside of the court.

All of this is part of why the truth on Friday was that Federer-Nadal’s eventual winner against Tiafoe-Sock, the result, the stats – none of that would matter, it was all so completely beside the point. After all, that day was about saying goodbye. Or rather the farewells: Federer from tennis, from the fans, from colleagues. And of course the farewell of each of these units from Federer.

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