A Tearful Farewell For Federer At Laver Cup

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

LONDON/WASHINGTON, September 24, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

For nearly 20 years, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been friendly rivals on opposite sides of the net. On Friday evening at the 2022 Laver Cup team event in London’s O2 Arena, they finished on the same side of the net as doubles partners as Federer played his final competitive match.

There was plenty of harmony and smiles shared between Federer and Nadal and even by their formidable opponents who were cast as spoilers, Team World’s Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. Plus, more than a few tears were shed by the appreciative fans, who spent much of the evening with their smartphones out snapping keepsake photos throughout the entertaining match that was ultimately won by Sock and Tiafoe in a match tie-break.

When it ended after midnight, everybody among the sold-out crowd of 17,500 stood – both the fans and the players representing Team Europe and Team World – and applauded Federer. After all, the future Hall of Famer was the star of the show, the one who gave everyone plenty of positive memories for a lifetime. The final score of Federer’s final pro match didn’t matter.

At age 41, Federer is the first of the current golden-era Big Four – that includes the Swiss star, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – to retire from professional tennis.

“Sitting here, it feels good that I go first from the guys; it just feels right,” Federer said Thursday during Team Europe’s news conference, flanked by the other Big Four members, all whom are teammates this weekend.

“Different kind of pressure,” Nadal said of playing doubles with Federer instead of being on the other side of the net competing in a major final. “After all the amazing things that we shared together on and off the court, to be part of this historic moment is going to be something amazing, unforgettable for me. Super excited.”

As it happened, Federer at times looked sharp in his net play and with his groundstrokes. He certainly felt comfortable teaming with Nadal throughout the two-hour and 16-minute tussle. However, he and Nadal ultimately were unable to pull out a victory in Federer’s farewell and lost to Sock and Tiafoe, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9.

Federer and Nadal held a match point at 9-8 during the 10-point match tie-break but ultimately fell to the American duo, who outpointed them 89-85. After the first day, Team Europe and Team World were level at 2 points each.

It wasn’t until after the match that Federer let his emotions get the best of him, as he hugged Nadal and the rest of his Team Europe teammates as well as captain Bjorn Borg and assistant captain Thomas Enqvist. Then, he went and hugged his Team World opponents.

With his voice cracking during his on-court interview with Hall of Famer Jim Courier, Federer said, “We’ll get through this somehow, will we? Right?

“I’m happy. I’m not sad. It feels great to be here and I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time. Everything was the last time. The match was great. … I’m so happy I made it through. I couldn’t be happier. It’s been wonderful.”

Soon, Federer broke down in tears as he gave thanks and shared gratitude with his family, team and his supporters.

“Playing with Rafa on the same team, and having the guys, everybody here, all the legends – Rocket, Edberg, Stefan – thank you,” Federer said. “I didn’t want it to feel lonely out there. It felt lonely for a second when they told me to go out … or you wanted me to come out one more time, but to be saying goodbye on a team, I always felt I was a team player at heart.

“Singles doesn’t really do that but I’ve had a team that always travelled with me aroun the world. It’s been amazing with them, so thanks to everybody who made it work for so many years.”

Federer was joined on court by his wife Mirka and their four children, plus his parents.

“And then of course being on the team with Andy, Thomas, Novak, Matteo, Cam, Stefanos, Rafa and Casper … and also the other team, you guys are unbelievable. It’s been a pleasure playing all these Laver Cups.

“It does feel like a celebration to me. I wanted to feel like this at the end, and it’s exactly what I hoped for, so thank you.”

Team Europe jumped out to early lead

The day began well for Team Europe as Casper Ruud edged Team World’s Jack Sock, 6-4, 5-7, 10-7, in an hour and 49 minutes. The World No. 2 from Norway was consistent in his approach and he outlasted his opponent in the longer rallies. Ruud, who rallied from down 0-3 in the match tie-break, struck six aces, won 73 percent of his first-serve points, broke Sock twice in six tries and outpointed the American 68-64.

Ruud, who has won eight of his past nine matches after reaching his second Grand Slam final of the season at the US Open earlier this month, admitted during his on-court interview that it had been “nerve-wracking at the start.” He said that winning last year’s opening Laver Cup match against Reilly Opelka in Boston provided him with a confidence boost.

“This match was decided by a couple of points,” he said. “I think we both made mistakes we wouldn’t normally make, and this time the margins were on my side.”

Sock, who is ranked 128th, suggested that individual rankings can sometimes be deceiving in Laver Cup competition. “I keep getting underestimated. Despite what my ranking says, I still feel I’m a pretty good tennis player. I lost to the World No. 2 on a 10-7 tie-break.”

Later, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece extended Team Europe’s lead after blitzing Team World’s Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1, in 77 minutes. Tsitsipas struck 17 winners and made just six unforced errors. The World No. 6 improved to 3-0 lifetime in Laver Cup competition and 4-2 lifetime against Schwartzman. It was the third loss by Schwartzman in Laver Cup play.

“We’re off to a good start,” Tsitsipas said. “We are doing really well in terms of understanding what our goals are this week. We have a strong lineup of players many of them that qualify as legends of our sport.”

Team World rallies behind de Minaur

As the night session got underway, Team Europe’s Andy Murray of Great Britain and Team World’s Alex de Minaur of Australia put on the best-fought and most-competitive match of the day that required a match tie-break to decide the outcome.

The 23-year-old de Minaur delivered a 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 victory over Murray that stretched to nearly two-and-a-half hours in duration. It was a must-win situation for Team World and the World No. 22 from Down Under delivered to cut Team Europe’s lead in half. With his victory, de Minaur extended his career head-to-head against Murray to 2-0. Both players were making their Laver Cup debuts.

“Probably the kind of nerves and just the sense of having my back against the wall, it wasn’t easy by any means,” said de Minaur in his on-court interview. “We’re in a battle, so it was a big win for me, that’s for sure.”

Murray countered: “It’s surreal, just playing a match with everything that’s going on,” he said during his press conference. “Having Bjorn Borg on the side of the court, John McEnroe. Stefan Edberg was in the crowd, all of the teams as well, having them supporting you, talking during matches as well, it was incredible. One of the most special matches that I’ve played.”

Then, Sock and Tiafoe leveled the Laver Cup at 2-all with their come-from-behind victory over Federer and Nadal.

Soon, English pop singer Ellie Goulding sang “Still Falling For You” and “Fire and Ice,” and Federer could be seen hugging Mirka, each of his four children, and his parents, before doing a lap of honor around the floor of the O2 Arena as it neared 1 a.m.

“It’s been a perfect journey, I’d do it all over again,” Federer said. “Most people in the tennis world would love to see it all over again.”

Competition continues Saturday with a pair of singles matches during the afternoon followed by a singles and doubles match each in the evening. Each Saturday win is worth two points.

Sampras pays tribute to Federer

As the tributes this week continued pouring in for Roger Federer, one that stood out came from one of Federer’s idols, Pete Sampras. In a video released Thursday on social media, the 15-time Grand Slam champion from the United States weighed in on what Federer meant to him, both on and off the court.

“Not really sure where to begin,” Sampras said. “I’ll just start from the beginning when I first played you. You were 19-years-old, an up-and-coming player, people were talking about you and we had a great battle on the Centre Court of Wimbledon and you took me down tough five-setter. I just remember walking off the court feeling like I met my match, truly a special player. Little i I know 20 years later that you would have 20 majors, be No. 1 for years, dominate our sport, basically do it all.

“I know through those 20 years that you sacrificed, dedicated yourself, you got your body right. I don’t think people saw that side of you because you made the game look so easy. But I know that you’re the ultimate professional when it comes to preparing, pretty extraordinary what you’ve done.

“I’ve admired the way you’ve handled it all, from the very beginning to the very end, You’re always gracious in your defeats, gracious in your wins. I’ve sat back and watched 20 years of brilliance, heartache, triumph, and throughout the whole span of your career, you’ve never really changed. You’re true to yourself and where you came from. You should look back on your career and feel really proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish.

“On a personal note, I’ll never forget the week in Asia we had, messing around, playing some exhibitions, that’s when I got to know you pretty well. We’ve developed a pretty good friendship since then, just staying in touch and checking in each other’s families. We’re going to be sad to see you go but I know this is part of sports.

“I just want to shout out to you and tell you that you’re going to be missed in our game, but you left the game in good hands. I just want to wish you a great retirement, I hope I get to see you at home some point down the road and catch up.”

Laver Cup notes

• The Laver Cup is the brainchild of Roger Federer and his longtime agent, Tony Godsick, who first began exchanging ideas back in 2014. The competition was announced in 2016 and the first Laver Cup was played in 2017 in Prague. With the exception of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Laver Cup has been played annually in global cities including: Chicago in 2018, Geneva in 2019 and Boston in 2021. Next year’s Laver Cup will take place in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, from Sept. 22-24.

• Entering the Laver Cup, the Big Four – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – have combined  for 4,043 tour-level wins. Nadal (22), Djokovic (21), Federer (20) and Murray (3) have won a combined 66 Grand Slam singles titles and 329 tour-level crowns.

Alex de Minaur’s victory over Andy Murray was only the second time in Laver Cup history that Team World has won a singles match on Day 1. At Laver Cup Geneva in 2019, Jack Sock stunned top 10 Team Europe player Fabio Fognini.

• Among those attending opening day of the Laver Cup: Hall of Famer and Laver Cup namesake Rod Laver, Hall of Famer Stefan Edberg, injured Team Europe star Alexander Zverev, Vogue magazine editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and actor Hugh Grant.

“Quotable …”

“We had a couple of unfortunate matches. I always knew my match was going to be a big one to try to get a point and get us on track. Everyone in this team is going to leave it all out there and that’s the most important thing.”

Alex de Minaur of Team World, following his victory over Andy Murray

“My wife’s been so supportive. She could have stopped me a long time ago, but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play. It’s amazing. Thank you.”

Roger Federer of Team Europe, during his on-court interview after his final match.