It Took Nadal To Create A Great Rivalry With Federer

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

What started as speculation when Roger Federer hinted Wednesday that he would like to renew his doubles partnership with longtime rival and friend Rafael Nadal became official on Thursday. Federer and Nadal will make a dream team for their Laver Cup doubles match Friday evening at the O2 Arena in London against Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.

The 2022 Laver Cup, which begins Friday as Team Europe faces Team World in tennis’s version of the Ryder Cup, features the Big Three of men’s tennis – Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic – plus an assortment of other elite players in a series of three-set matches that runs through Sunday. Hall of Famers Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe return as team captains. Team Europe has won all four previous Laver Cup events since its inception in 2017.

Federer’s final match before he retires no doubt will garner the most attention all weekend. However, there are also some good first-day matches that will set the table for the rest of the competition. Friday’s order of play begins with Casper Ruud of Team Europe facing Sock of Team World followed by Stefanos Tsitsipas against Diego Schwartzman. The evening session begins with Andy Murray opposing Alex de Minaur followed by the Federer-Nadal doubles spotlight.

Team Europe also includes Djokovic and Matteo Berrettini, who will be elevated from alternate to replace Federer on Saturday and Sunday. In reserve for Team World are Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Federer has not played competitively in 14 months and said Wednesday: “I know my limitations. Obviously, I’m nervous going in because I haven’t played in so long. I hope it can be somewhat competitive.” He said he looks forward to teaming with Nadal with whom he shares 42 Grand Slam singles titles.

During Team Europe’s press conference Thursday, Nadal said he will be forever proud of the “amazing rivalry” that he and Federer created. The 36-year-old Spaniard played the Swiss star 40 times, including nine Grand Slam finals. They’ve developed a life-long friendship off the court, too.

“After all the amazing things that we share together on an off the court, to be part of this historic moment is going to [be] something amazing, unforgettable for me,” Nadal said.

“I think the memories that Roger brings to the sport, in my personal way, they are not only in matches against me. I saw him playing comfortably before I arrived on tour. I saw him having success on TV, and then [we were] able to create an amazing rivalry together.”

Nadal pointed to his 2008 Wimbledon title win, which ended Federer’s run of five straight titles at the All England Club, as his favorite memory of the on-court rivalry.

While Nadal expects Federer to be emotional during his final match Friday, he admitted that he may be too.

“Tomorrow’s going to be a special thing,” Nadal said. “I think very difficult, difficult one. It’s going to be difficult to handle everything, especially for Roger, without a doubt. For me too.

“You know, at the end, one of the most important players, if not most important player in my tennis career, is leaving. At the end, live this moment will be difficult.

“Of course, I am super excited and grateful to play with him. I just think I am going to try to do my best in every single way, to help to have this moment even more special than what it’s going to be.”

Laver Cup notes

• In an appearance on Today, broadcast in the U.S., Roger Federer said he’s firm in his decision to retire because of injuries and multiple surgeries. He indicated he won’t un-retire, like the NFL’s Tom Brady, or “evolve” like Serena Williams. “No, No. I am definitely done.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas on training with Roger Federer: “We started for the first few minutes, and I was quite impressed. I was like, ‘ Roger, are you sure you still want to do this’?”

Novak Djokovic on his many battles with Roger Federer: “Well, I’ll pick my first Grand Slam finals, US Open 2007. I lost that match. That was the first Grand Slam final obviously, was remarkable experience for me at the time. Kind of the first match that allowed me to believe that I belonged to that level.”

• Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg calls Roger Federer the “greatest player who ever played the game”.

“What Roger did for tennis, he did so many PR for the sports, in general. I’m proud of you, Novak, proud of you guys. But what he did for so many years, it’s fantastic.”

• The Laver Cup open practice drew a total of 14,770, including 3,000 local school children from 85 different schools across London. Proceeds from the practice day will be donated to two charitable organizations: Action for Children and the Lawn Tennis Association’s charitable arm, the LTA Tennis Foundation.