A tearful Roger Federer paid tribute to his wife Mirka and said he was “happy and not sad” despite ending his professional career with a Laver Cup doubles loss alongside Rafael Nadal.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion announced last week that he would be retiring from competitive tennis with a final match at 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 couldn’t add one more win to his illustrious resume.
World team duo Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe proved pantomime villains with a 4-6 7-6(2) 11-9 win at 02, but it was still a party for the 41-year-old .
Federer enjoyed a long hug with former sparring partner Nadal, who was also later in tears, at the end of the match before receiving a final standing ovation from a sold-out crowd as the clock ticked down. well past midnight.
“We’re going to get out of this one way or another,” Federer said on the pitch.
“Listen, it was a wonderful day. I told the guys I’m happy, I’m not sad. It’s great to be here and I enjoyed tying my shoes again.
“Everything was the last time. Pretty funny with all the games, being with the guys and having family and friends, I didn’t feel the stress so much even though I felt like something was going to happen during the game. I’m so glad I made it and the game was great. I couldn’t 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 that’s exactly what I was hoping for so thank you.
“It was a perfect trip and I would do it again…”
Federer had to fight back tears before thanking his wife Mirka, who watched him struggle through a succession of knee surgeries before finally admitting defeat in his quest to return last week.
He added: “Thank you all. I’ve had so many people cheering me on and you guys here tonight mean the world.
“My wife was so 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 incredible.”
Federer had already received numerous standing ovations at the O2 this week, first from reporters at the end of his press conference on Wednesday before again during a training session alongside the ‘big four’ One day later.
A new round of applause greets his entry on the court for this “last dance”. It seemed appropriate 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 major at Wimbledon in 2003 and then a record 15th Grand Slam six years later which moved him. ahead of his former rival Pete Sampras.
When the first ball was struck in anger, after a 10:11 p.m. tee time, Federer took seconds before a lightning-fast volley at the net sent a thunderous sound inside the arena.
Alongside his longtime sparring partner Nadal, the competition juices were flowing when Federer produced a superb serve and volley in game seven.
The former world number ones were in the mood now and produced clutch tennis at a critical moment to take the opener in 42 minutes after a superb net play by the 41-year-old.
In keeping with this unique situation, Novak Djokovic, holder of 21 majors, was on hand to offer words of wisdom when needed and also one of the most enthusiastic celebrating any points won by the partnership dubbed Fedal.
The tables were turned in the second set and despite Federer’s right knee seemingly holding out – it was a succession of operations on that part of his body that saw him finally admit defeat in his bid to continue play – fatigue began to set in for both the Hall of Fame.
Sock and Tiafoe had warned they weren’t there to make up the numbers and duly clinched the second set to force a decisive decider.
While the Americans would eventually claim victory after two hours and 14 minutes, they only did so after a handful of durations for Federer, who sent an ace at 116 mph and a delicious skillful drop shot that proved the ultimate winner of a simply extraordinary career.