Crowd flattery, seemingly endless rounds of applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger” made Federer cry.
“I enjoyed tying my shoes for the last time. Everything was the last time.”
The epic tiebreak that sealed the victory for the American pair was a fitting end to not only a match that, though intense and often emotional, exceeded expectations in its grandeur and quality, but also a career that produced many moments of genius and provided joy to many.
For a three-day competition between teams from Europe and the rest of the world that has rarely felt like more than a fairground since its debut in 2017, the announcement of Federer’s retirement added some welcome prestige to this weekend’s play.
While the competition, featuring nine singles and three doubles matches, may have previously received negligible global attention, this year’s edition is now undoubtedly one of the biggest tennis events of the year.
Of course, this was largely due to him being Swansong Federer, but it was also providing tennis fans with something they hadn’t seen for many years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all healthy and competing together in the same tournament.
There’s no doubt that these four stars’ social media posts in the week leading up to the event would have left fans feeling nostalgic. The quartet showed real warmth towards each other, similar to the group of school friends who had not been together for many years, as they explored the sights of London.
Perhaps, though, feelings of nostalgia came not only from the 2022 Laver Cup marking the end of Federer’s long and winning 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 in their thirties all suffering a lengthy injury absence at some point during their careers, their eventual retirement now looms large over the sport.
Those four players — “the Big Three plus some clown,” Murray said playfully on his Instagram page — will never officially grace the same tournament again.
Farewell to the legend
Federer’s achievements on the court will be among the greats in the men’s game – although he is undoubtedly in the top three – there is no doubt that he is the most sublime tennis player ever to pick up a racket.
Largely because of the way he played the game, no one else in the sport has garnered universal admiration, endorsement, or become a cultural icon quite like the cute Swiss superstar.
For most of his career, Federer appeared to be rambling around the court rather than scurrying, his locks flowing and jumping over his headband, while his sassy one-handed aesthetic became tennis’s most iconic and recognizable shot of all time.
And most importantly, the beauty of his game achieved – at the height of his powers – unprecedented success. He became the first player to beat the previous men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, and then became the first player to reach No. 20.
While Nadal and Djokovic may now have surpassed the grand slam total, the epic battles that Federer had with these two players during his career only added to his legacy.
On another day, the three games leading up to Federer’s final farewell might have been noteworthy in their own right – Murray vs Alex de Minaur was a particularly interesting encounter – but today they looked like preparations for the main event.
At the end of the second set of Murray’s match against De Minaur – which the Australian won in a third-set tie-breaker to earn his first World Team point today – Federer switched to his shorts and headband for Team Europe. He seemed ready to go into the stadium, which only added to the expectation that was steadily increasing within the arena.
In an interview with De Minaur on the field after the match, he mentioned how he would cheer for Team World against Nadal and Federer, which led to the 23-year-old being booed by the fans who burst into laughter.
man of the moment
When Federer’s name was finally announced as he made his way onto the field, the crowd noise was so deafening that it completely drowned out the announcer’s voice before he finished introducing the Swiss and his partner Nadal.
The 41-year-old was met with another booming cheer when I read of his accomplishments during the warm-up, but the loudest roar came when Federer hit a long shot to give him and Nadal their first match point.
For most of the opening exchanges, there was still an icon in Federer’s shots as he carried himself with his trademark lap across the field, but when chasing a shot from Tiafoe that didn’t land two yards in front of him, age began in Federer’s legs to make their debut as he struggled for reach the ball.
These moments didn’t happen often, which is a great idea given his age and the three knee surgeries he’s had. In fact, as he continues to show a great touch – on the net in particular – the crowd inside the O2 Arena likely wondered why he’d retire at all.
One moment in particular elicited shocked gasps from the crowd when the big screens showed the replay. While chasing a short ball, Federer squeezed a forehand through the small gap between the net and the post.
He may have missed them on point, as the ball passed under the top of the net, but even in the last game of his career, Federer was producing moments he had never seen on a tennis court before.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is still plenty of magic left in what many viewers throughout his career have described as a stick rather than a racket.
There were plenty of smiles from both Federer and Nadal early on, including laughter when Federer visibly missed his next point plan and had to turn back to his partner for a debrief again, causing the Swiss to shyly raise his hands. Apologize.
But as the first set continued, the mood on the court changed as the relentless competitive nature that had made these two guys such strengths over the years finally began to come to the fore.
When the duo, dubbed “Vidal” by fans, sealed the first set 6-4, the atmosphere inside the stadium was on the brink of party mode.
But without going wrong, Sock and Tiafoe were by no means happy to roll and let Federer march toward sunset with an easy victory. The American duo broke early in the second set as they seemed to spoil the party atmosphere, but Federer and Nadal soon broke to restore parity.
The match’s best match came with a 5-5 score tie, with Nadal saving six break points – including one of Federer’s one-twos that drew raucous cheers from the crowd – to put the pair ahead. On the brink of victory.
But Sock then staged a feint serve of his own to take the group into the tiebreak, and the first point that Federer – and the entire field – thought he had sent an ace, was to be greeted by a “allow” call from the referee who loudly booed from the arena. the entirety.
An impressive tie from the American duo broke the second set seal and led to an epic tiebreak.
The drama that mustered in the third set – a 3-0 lead opened and squandered by Federer and Nadal, a brutal forehand by Tiafoe in Federer’s back and an ace by Federer who received a standing ovation – were fitting. The end of an incomparable career.
In the end, Federer not being able to secure a win wasn’t so important, and the emotion in his farewell speech – he was barely able to get over when talking about the support his family had given him throughout his career – also dropped his marital partner to tears.
“It feels like a celebration,” Federer said. “That’s exactly what I wanted in the end, exactly what I was hoping for.”
CNN’s Ben Morse contributed to this report.