Roger Federer lifted the curtain on his illustrious career in an emotional Friday night session at London’s O2 Arena, finishing his last game at 12:25 a.m. and leaving the pitch just before 1 a.m. in the middle of a sea of love, tears and music. of a host of capacity.
The fairy tale ending of a victory in his last game was woefully far from coming as Federer and his great friend and rival Rafael Nadal failed to convert a match point before losing a sharp brace against Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 7 -6(2) 11-9.
The result leaves the 2022 Laver Cup poised at 2-2 at the end of the opening day, providing plenty of breathing room for the weekend. But Friday’s story was all about Federer and the latest chapter in a career that marks him as one of the greatest athletes in the history of sport, not just tennis.
He received a standing ovation as he entered the arena just after 10 p.m. after a two and a half hour single between Andy Murray and Alex de Minaur, and as if to underline the enormity of the occasion, Tiafoe squeezed the hand. with Federer after the draw. It ended two and a quarter hours later with Sock taking Nadal the wrong way with a forehand down the aisle, but from then on the American pair took a back seat as the show belonged to Federer.
He struggled through a tearful on-court interview with Jim Courier, although he insisted: “It was a wonderful day – I’m happy, not sad. I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time, I knew everything I was doing was going to be for the last time. I was worried something was going wrong – my calf would go or my back would lock up – but I pulled it off.
As the 17,000-seat arena was packed and the clock ticking past midnight, Federer was serenaded into retirement by pop singer Ellie Goulding, who sang “Still fall for you” and “Fire and ice “.
The game itself was the perfect way for Federer to get out. Yes, a win would have been the icing on the cake, but it was all there for him to walk away with flashes of the brilliance he’s become known and loved for, but with enough for everyone to see his time is up. really gone.
His game was still there. He served consistently above 120 mph, his groundstrokes were in good shape (although a few forehands landed way over target), his reflexes were good enough to allow him to play clean volleys and his positioning was classic.
The only thing missing was his movement. He didn’t serve and steal once, he struggled to execute short volleys and wide balls, and he rarely intercepted at the net. That left Nadal with the lion’s share of the work, and the legendary pair reaching match point was largely down to Nadal’s willingness to run for everything (and who knows how badly Nadal really is). form ?). With a chronic knee injury, it’s clear that singles is now a step too far, even for such an accomplished shooter as Federer.
His sublime technique, big hands and tennis brain allowed him to conceal the restricted mobility, and it almost worked. Three times he and Nadal were two points from victory – at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set and 8-8 in the tiebreaker – and they came within a point of victory at 9-8 . But Federer scored a reflex forehand and then conceded his next service point, before Sock finished the job after two hours and 14 minutes of absorbing play.
The match even featured an addition to Federer’s showreel. In game three, he moved for a forehand down the line and threaded it through the small gap between the net post and the net. As the ball went under the boards and grazed the net, the point went to Team World, but few will care – until the very end Federer showed he had the ability to leave a crowd speechless at his ability.
The half hour after the game was an unapologetic Federer-Fest. Both teams praised him twice, he struggled in tears during his interview with Courier and paid tribute to his family, especially his wife Mirka, who he says “allowed me to play while ‘She could so easily have asked me to stop’. As Goulding sang “Fire and ice”, Federer hugged Mirka, his four children and his parents, before taking a lap of honor around a still almost full stadium as the clock ticked towards 1am .
“It feels like a party,” he told the crowd, “it’s what I wanted it to be, so thank you. It’s been a perfect trip, I’d do it again. Most people in the world of tennis would like to see everything again.