Roger Federer ended his remarkable career with a painful double defeat alongside longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, in the Laver Cup in the early hours of Saturday. The 20-time Grand Slam champion, haunted by a knee injury, has not played since the 2021 Wimbledon quarter-finals and announced his retirement last week at the age of 41. But he turned back the years in London, the scene of many of his most famous Wimbledon triumphs, to the delight of a fevered, partisan crowd.
Federer and Nadal – the combination tennis fans around the world desperately wanted to see – went to Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 11-9 in the O2 arena.
The result meant that Team Europe was 2-2 with Team World at the end of the opening day of the Ryder Cup-style event after Andy Murray slipped and defeated Australian Alex de Minaur.
“We’re going to get through this one way or another,” said a tearful Federer. “It was a great day. I told the boys I’m happy, not sad.
“It feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoelaces again, everything was the last time.
“I didn’t feel that much stress, although I thought maybe something would go, like a calf, but the race was great.
“Playing with Rafa and having all the greats here, all the legends, thank you.”
Federer has had a legendary rivalry with Spain’s Nadal for nearly two decades – together they won 42 Grand Slam titles in a golden era for the men’s game.
The pair, who first met in 2004, played 40 times, including in nine Grand Slam finals, with Nadal holding a winning record of 24-16.
But on Friday, they were on the same side of the net in a fitting farewell to Federer, who turned pro nearly a quarter of a century ago.
There was a huge roar and standing ovation as the Swiss powerhouse and Nadal entered the black court, dressed in blue shirts and white shorts, both with white headbands.
Both teams kept the serve fairly comfortable at the start of the match, with cries of “Let’s Go Roger, Let’s Go” breaking out at 3-3.
But Federer and Nadal grabbed their first break point in the 10th game and won the first set when Sock backhanded a shot to huge cheers.
The two superstars were rocked in the third game of the second set when Nadal was broken, but they made it 3-3.
The second set went to a tie-break, which Team World won comfortably to force a match-tie-break.
In a nerve-wracking shootout, Federer produced a vintage cross-court winner to 7-7, but was hit on the arm by a shot from Tiafoe on the next point.
Federer and Nadal were unable to capitalize on their single match point at 9-8, with their opponents taking the next three points to win the match.
– ‘Big Four’ reunited –
The six-man Team Europe also includes Novak Djokovic and Murray – the other two members of the so-called “Big Four” who dominated the men’s game for so many years.
Italy’s Matteo Berrettini will replace Federer this weekend, with the Swiss superpower opting out of singles matches.
Europe has won all four previous editions of the Laver Cup and took a 2-0 lead after the opening session in London, thanks to wins for Norwegian Casper Ruud and Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas shrugged after a dramatic on-field protest by a protester who set his arm on fire to defeat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1.
The protester, who wore a T-shirt that read “End UK Private Jets”, was quickly dragged from the court after water was poured onto his burning arm.
In the evening session, Murray lost a grueling encounter to De Minaur 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 before all eyes were on Federer.
The Swiss leaves the podium 19 years after winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003.
He will retire with a men’s record of eight Wimbledon crowns, 103 titles overall and more than $130 million in prize money alone, won in a game characterized by rare elegance and precision.
Nadal (22) and Djokovic (21) have both surpassed Federer’s number of Grand Slam titles, but Team World captain John McEnroe said Federer’s retirement “leaves a void that will never be filled”.
(This story was not edited by The Switzerland Times staff and was generated automatically Platforms.)
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