‘It’s going to be special’: Roger Federer’s final game brings rivals together ahead of Laver Cup

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

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It was one of many emotional moments before the Laver Cup, as a scene of grandeur was marked by reflection and gratitude. Roger Federer looked to his left and saw Rafael Nadal then he turned to his right, to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. He collected the memories of nearly two decades of battles and the historic rivalries they had shared and breathed in, as if to drop everything. “It’s good that I go first,” concluded Federer.

For Federer, the clock is ticking towards when he will emerge on the pitch for the last time, but this is a game he and arch-rival Nadal will play together. Federer got his wish and tennis’ greatest rivalry will see its final chapter played out with the two players on the same doubles team. They will face Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night, with the American pair having the unenviable task of taking on Federer in their final game.

Before that, there was a chance to take a break. “Tomorrow will be difficult to manage,” admitted Nadal. “The most important player in my tennis career is leaving.”

In what looked perhaps like the tennis equivalent of the last supper, or a meeting of the sport’s high council, there had perhaps never been such a gathering of victors and champions on the same table. Europe’s Laver Cup opponents Team World have described the task they face as knocking out “superheroes” and Federer’s retirement has elevated the tournament and brought an extraordinary moment.

With Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray alongside European team captain Bjorn Bjorg, the departure of the 41-year-old tennis player has brought the generations closer together. “To have the greatest player to ever play the game to be part of the Laver Cup…” Bjorg began, “I can’t feel better than having all these players here.”

“It’s going to be special,” said Murray, playing his first Laver Cup at a historic moment, and Federer’s retirement has naturally left him thinking about the end of his own career. “I think it feels good to see Roger and Rafa on the same side of the net, Bjorn on the side of the field, John McEnroe there, Rod Laver in the stands. I thought of that myself, but I can’t can’t think of a better way like this.

Federer had admitted in his own press conference on Wednesday that he had feared retiring alone, but instead comes out joined by his rivals and with their memories of his greatest moments. For Nadal, the 2008 Wimbledon final, their iconic match that ended in near obscurity, and the 2017 Australian Open final stood out, a match they both reached just weeks away. after both believing their time at the top of the sport was running out. “I think those two moments for different situations are very, very special.”

Murray, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal trained together ahead of Laver Cup start

(AFP via Getty Images)

Djokovic’s fondest memory is a match he lost: his first appearance in a Grand Slam final at the US Open, a straight-set loss that set Djokovic on course to become the player who would dominate the last decade. . “We always wanted to win against each other, we always wanted to be better than each other,” Djokovic said. “On a personal level, of course, it’s different. It’s a sad day for tennis.

Further down the table, in danger of being overshadowed, was the younger generation of Stefanos Tsitispas, Matteo Berretttini and Casper Ruud, who grew up with the legend of Federer and the big three. Tsitsipas trained with Federer upon his arrival in London and was surprised at his level, believing he could continue playing. “I was like, Roger, are you sure you still want to do this?” he said.

Tsitsipas went on to speak on behalf of the generation whose first memories of tennis would have been Federer, his dominance and the style in which he performed it. “He’s the reason I pursued a one-handed backhand, he’s the reason I pursued a professional career.” Berrettini, who will take Federer’s place after his last doubles match in what is “the biggest shoe to fill”, said he will play alongside his idols.

European captain Bjorg alongside his team

(AFP via Getty Images)

Between them, they have won 66 Grand Slam titles, including every Wimbledon since 2002. They held the No. 1 spot between 2004 and 2022, but their collective era is coming to an end. As Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray trained together in front of crowded stands of schoolchildren on Thursday, you hoped they understood the significance of the moment.

There was a lot of camaraderie off the pitch. The stresses of life on tour usually allow this time off the game, but those involved made the most of it. Murray, who is making his Laver Cup debut in the fifth edition of the tournament, was the main recipient and had to foot the European dinner bill.

Djokovic’s return was also welcomed, although there were some awkward moments as he was questioned on his first appearance since winning Wimbledon two months ago. Since then, he has been absent from the US Open due to his decision on the vaccine and it was still questioned whether he was ready to do the same before the Australian Open in January, but the last match of Federer was unavoidable.

There is another side to the story on the other side of the net. Team World are the competition’s perennial underdog, having lost all four previous tournaments and scoring just one point last year. This time they not only face a team that is superior in all metrics, but also has Federer’s farewell romance and London’s backing.

World captain John McEnroe takes on Team Europe ‘superheroes’

(Getty Images for Laver Cup)

“These guys aren’t bad guys,” said their captain McEnroe. “They are opponents. It’s an incredible moment for our sport. A celebration of what Roger has achieved. Whether he wins or loses is beyond the question, so it opens the door for us to do our thing.

It would be a daunting prospect if the world team didn’t have a player with particular experience in the field. Federer has played doubles five times in his previous Laver Cup appearances, and each time stood in net for American Sock – a former world No. 8 in singles but a more accomplished doubles player.

“I was lucky enough to play some combinations of these legends of the sport,” Sock said. “I’m going to retire some of the past matches I’ve had.” Sock played Federer and Nadal in their only other doubles match together in 2017 and is joined by a player from US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe who is thriving on the big stage. “I’m just excited to play against two newcomers tomorrow,” Tiafoe joked. “But no, it’s going to be iconic to be a part of it.”

Win or lose, the gratitude will remain after Federer’s last game, but the sense of finality will also become clearer. “It’s the normal cycle of life, right?” Nadal said. “Nothing new, history always repeats itself. This time it’s us, and in this particular case, it’s probably one of the most important if not the most important player in the history of this sport leaving. Nadal will stand alongside Federer in his last game, but after that nothing will be the same.

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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