A tearful Roger Federer paid tribute to his wife Mirka, declaring himself “happy and not sad” despite ending his professional career with a Laver Cup doubles loss to Rafael Nadal.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion announced last week that he would retire from competitive tennis with a final match in the Ryder Cup-style competition, which was his brainchild.
London was the destination for the fifth edition of the Laver Cup, the city of some of Federer’s greatest triumphs, but the Swiss superstar was unable to add another win to his illustrious resume.
Team World duo Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe proved to be the villains of the pantomime with a 4-6, 7-6(2), 11-9 victory in 02, but it was still a celebration for the man 41 years old.
Federer enjoyed a long hug with his former sparring partner Nadal, who later also cried, at the end of the match before receiving a final standing ovation from a packed crowd despite the clock being well past midnight.
“We’ll get through this somehow,” Federer said on court.
“Look, it’s been a wonderful day. I told the guys I’m happy, I’m not sad. It feels great to be here and I enjoyed tying my shoes once again.
“Everything was the last time. Quite fun with all the games, being with the guys and having family and friends, I didn’t feel as much stress even if I felt like something was going to happen during the game. I am very happy that I did it and the match was great. Could not be happier.
“Of course, playing with Rafa in the same team, having all the guys here, the legends, Rocket (Rod Laver), Stefan Edberg, thank you.
“It feels like a celebration to me. I wanted to feel like this at the end and it’s exactly what I expected, so thank you.
“It has been a perfect trip and I would do it all again…”
Federer had to hold back tears before thanking his wife Mirka, who watched him struggle through a succession of knee operations before finally admitting defeat in his quest to come back last week.
He added: “Thank you all. Many people encouraged me and you here tonight mean the world.
“My wife has been very supportive… she could have stopped me a long, long time ago, but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play, so thank you. She is amazing.”
Federer had already received numerous standing ovations at The O2 this week, first from reporters at the end of his news conference on Wednesday and again during a practice session alongside the Big Four a day later.
Another round of applause greeted her entrance onto the pitch for this ‘last dance’. It felt fitting for the Swiss ace, wearing his white headband, to sign in London, the home of many of his most famous victories, including a memorable first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003 and then a record 15th Grand Slam. six years later it moved him. ahead of old rival Pete Sampras.
When the first ball was hit in anger, after a 10:11pm start, Federer needed a few seconds before a lightning-quick volley into the net caused a thunderous noise inside the arena.
Alongside his long-term training partner Nadal, the competitive juices were flowing as Federer produced an excellent serve and volley in game seven.
The former world number ones were in the mood now and produced decisive tennis at a critical moment to take the first goal in 42 minutes after some more excellent net play by the 41-year-old.
In keeping with this unique situation, Novak Djokovic, the holder of 21 majors, was on hand to offer words of wisdom when needed and also one of those who most enthusiastically celebrated any point earned by the association called Fedal.
The tables were turned in the second set, and despite Federer’s right knee seemingly holding (it was a succession of operations on that part of his body that ultimately led him to admit defeat as he tried to continue playing), the exhaustion began to affect both. the Hall of Fame.
Sock and Tiafoe had warned they weren’t there to make up the numbers and took the second set to force a decisive tie break.
While the Americans eventually claimed victory after two hours and 14 minutes, they did so only after a handful of last for Federer, who sent a 116mph ace and a charmingly deft dropshot that turned out to be the ultimate winner of a career. simply extraordinary.