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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 23, 2022

 
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"It does feel like a celebration to me," a tearful Roger Federer told fans in London after closing the curtain on his career in a Laver Cup doubles loss with Rafa Nadal.

Photo credit: Getty

The clock crept past midnight as the final moments of Roger Federer's glorious career wound down.

The capacity crowd filling every corner of the O2 Arena stood as one showering the 41-year-old Swiss superstar rousing extended ovation while tears welled in Federer's eyes and he tapped his hand over his heart in a show of appreciation.

Laver Cup fans gave the legend a loving London send-off tonight—and Federer exited the stage with grace and gratitude.

Americans Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe were in no mood for sentimental journeys saving a match point to edge Federer and Rafael Nadal in a gripping 4-6, 7-6(2), 11-9 victory that leveled Team World with Team Europe 2-2 after the opening day of Laver Cup play.

This night was much more a celebration of Federer's career than merely competition and proved to be a profound curtain closer.

"It does feel like a celebration to me," Federer told Jim Courier and the crowd in his on-court interview. "I wanted it to feel like this a the end and it's exactly what I hoped for. So thank you. It's been a perfect journey. I'd do it all over again."


The Coldplay classic Viva La Vida blared over the sound system as fans serenaded Federer with rhythmic clapping. One fan waved a sign proclaiming "Roger, I'm so proud to be your fan!"

The former world No. 1 who ruled the world for 310 weeks still rules the hearts of fans all over the world.

Federer and Nadal, who wanted so badly to give his friend a parting win, were sitting side-by-side on the Team Europe bench as both champions cried at the end of an era. Choking back tears as he addressed the crowd, Federer thanked family, friends, teammates and fans for their support and for seeing him through an emotional exit.

"It's been a wonderful day. I told the guys I'm happy not sad," Federer said on court. "It feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time—everything was the last time.

"Funny enough with all the matches and being here with the family friends, I didn't feel the stress so much even though I thought I might pop a calf or a back. I'm so happy I made it through. The match was great. Of course playing with Rafa on the same team and having the guys here all the legends, Rocket, Stefan Edberg thank you."

Twenty-five years after earning his first ATP ranking point, the 20-time Grand Slam champion said good-bye with grace and the passion for play he's displayed throughout his career.

Fittingly, Federer's final farewell was a Fedal reunion revelry with Nadal, who at times looked tighter than his friend and rival.

A packed and passionate O2 Arena crowd that included Federer's wife, Mirka, parents, Robert and Lynette, Rod Laver, former coach Federer coach Stefan Edberg, Mary Joe Fernandez, Alexander Zverev, Bear Grylls, Mariska Hargitay, Hugh Grant and Federer family friend Anna Wintour, erupted in rousing support for the Swiss from the moment he stepped on the charcoal-colored stage.

Credit two-time major doubles champion Sock and US Open semifinalis Tiafoe for tuning out the overwhelmingly pro-Federer crowd and turning up the heat in the match tiebreaker. Showing shared instinct for the kill shot that had to make captain John McEnroe proud, Sock sent Nadal sprawling at one point with a laser forehand, Tiafoe nailed Federer in the elbow with a forehand and later nearly decked Nadal with a rocket return.

Two champions with the most formidable forehands in tennis history opted to play forehands in the middle with Nadal manning the deuce side and Federer taking the ad side—the opposite formation the pair employed in their first Laver Cup doubles appearance back in Prague in 2017.

Moments into the match, Federer knocked off a forehand volley earning the first of many ovations from an engaged crowd. Playing his first match since he lost to Hubert Hurkacz in the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinals 13 months ago, Federer moved better than you might expect for a man who has undergone three knee surgeries. While his serve lacked it's familiar sting at times, the owner of 103 titles showed his shotmaking skills throughout the match.

Even chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani announcing "Roger Federer to serve" elicited a roar of anticipation.

Federer thread the needle squeezing a nearly impossible running forehand down the line through the narrow hole between the edge of the net and net post. Because the ball did not clear the net, Federer and Nadal lost the point. If the shot had gone around the net post, it would have been legal. Still, the pair held early in the opening set.


On set point, series of sharp diagonal forehands from Federer broke the Tiafoe serve as Team Europe snatched a one-set lead.

Three games into the second set, Tiafoe tore a return right back at Nadal's feet for triple break point on the Spaniard's serve. Nadal saved the first two break points, but Sock scalded a forehand return on the third and Federer couldn't control the volley. Team World broke for 2-1.

On break point in the following game, Federer stepped in front of Nadal to take a forehand but missed it wide. Team Fedal came back with a second break point against Sock and when Federer framed a forehand return well wide he admonished himself "No!"

Some Top 10 players call Sock the best doubles player in the world. The man with the flamethrower forehand showed soft hands to create flickering drop volleys both in a tight singles loss to Casper Ruud that opened the day's play and repelling a crackling Nadal forehand to back up the break for 3-1.

Team Europe broke back in the sixth game winning some of the most dynamic points of the set.




Iconic rivals made a spirited stand in the 11th game fighting off six break points on Nadal's serve that featured Federer in a near-kneeling position for the I-formation for a few points. The pair persevered through a near 12-minute hold for 6-5.

World wreaked frontcourt havoc to take charge of the second-set tiebreaker. Tiafoe bumped a volley down the middle for 4-2. A pair of Federer errors gave Team World a handful of break points and brought a hushed curtain over the crowd. Tiafoe hit a tremendous acute-angled forehand to seal the second set tiebreaker and force a 10-point match tiebreaker to decide it.

Deadlocked at 5-all in the match tiebreaker, Federer slashed an ace for 6-5 only to see Sock respond with a stinging serve and forehand down the line for 7-6.

When Tiafoe netted a running forehand, Federer stepped up to the line holding the ball and match point in his hand. Federer had a good look at a mid-court running forehand but was reaching for the ball and netted the shot for 9-9.

"How slow is this movement?" Federer joked with his teammates during the changeover. "This was replay—I'm in slow motion."

Accelerating through a second serve return, Tiafoe blasted a buzzing forehand that decked Nadal sending the Spaniard into a drop and roll defense as Team World took a 10-9 lead. Sock slammed the final forehand winner to end it.

Federer and Nadal embraced for a moment on court. When Federer walked to the team bench Novak Djokovic and Matteo Berrettini both wrapped the Swiss in a bear hug. Federer walked down the line embracing every player on both Team Europe and Team World. Many players shed tears right along with him.



On this night, tennis fans all over the world were having a good cry too.

In the end, players from both squads swarmed Federer raising the Swiss Maestro, who gave us so many fantastic flights on court, one last elevation celebration.

Roger Federer, a champion who never once retired from any professional match, called it a career landing on his feet with a smile plastered across his face and the trip of a lifetime embedded in his head.

 

 

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