LONDON – A tearful Roger Federer said he had been on an “amazing journey” after the final match of his outstanding tennis career ended in a defeat partnering long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a doubles at the Laver Cup in the early hours of Saturday.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, 41, and Nadal, playing for Team Europe, went down 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 9-11 against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
“We’ll get through this somehow,” said Federer while being interviewed on court at London’s O2 Arena by fellow Grand Slam winner Jim Courier.
“It’s been a wonderful day,” added the Swiss star, playing for the first time since Wimbledon 2021 because of a knee injury.
“I told the guys I’m happy, not sad. It feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoelaces one more, every thing was the last time.
“I didn’t feel the stress so much even though I thought maybe something was going to go, like a calf, but the match was great.
“Playing with Rafa and having all the greats here, all the legends, thank you.” Having paid tribute to his wife and parents for their support, Federer added: “It does feel like a celebration…It’s been an amazing journey.”
In front of a 17,500 sell-out crowd at London’s O2 Arena, Federer returned from more than a year away for a last dance in tandem with his great rival on a gripping and memorable finale by the Thames.
With the clock already well past midnight, the Swiss had the chance to seal victory in the doubles clash when he served at match point in a tense deciding tie-break but it was not to be.
After a brief moment of near silence around the packed arena, the crowd erupted to salute an emotional Federer.
The London crowd had to wait for the arrival of Federer and Nadal as British favourite Andy Murray and Alex De Minaur engaged in a series of interminable rallies in a grinding opening match of the night, eventually won by De Minaur.
Murray’s two Wimbledon titles mean he is a national sporting icon but the night was all about Federer – a player who resides in the pantheon of sporting greats along with the likes of Pele, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.
Even Federer’s practice sessions at the O2 were standing room only affairs and an electric atmosphere greeted him as he walked out into the cavernous arena alongside Nadal just after 10pm local time for what would be his last dance.
“I’ve done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who’s coming tonight,” Federer has posted on Twitter earlier in the day.
It certainly felt that way too for everyone present in a crowd which included Australian great Laver – the man who inspired Federer to create the novel team event.