New Delhi: Over the course of the past decade, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have thrived regardless of any circumstance. They have played against each other in the finals of the grandest tournaments around the world and they have brought out their best game time after time.
Yet nothing could have fully prepared them for the feelings they had on Friday. After 40 pressure-filled battles against each other, they stood together on the same side of the net as they were defeated 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9 by Team World’s Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe at the Laver Cup. In the process, one of the greatest ever sporting careers came to an end.
‘I couldn’t be happier’ – Roger Federer
After the match point, a visibly emotional Federer spoke to Jim Courier on the court and said, “I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time … the match was great. I couldn’t be happier. It’s been wonderful. And of course, playing with Rafa on the same team and having the guys – everybody here, all the legends – thank you.”
After reflecting on the “perfect journey” of his career, Federer paid a tearful tribute to his wife, Mirka.
“She could have stopped me a long, long time ago, but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play. It’s amazing. Thank you.”
It was an evening that was emotional from the very beginning. Federer and Nadal emerged to the 17,500-capacity sold-out crowd at the O2 Arena with a standing ovation.
From their team bench, Novak Djokovic pulled out his phone to record as he supported his two great rivals and during the first change of ends, a tribute video was broadcast in the stadium with contributions from Nadal, Federer’s mother, Lynette, and others.
There was plenty of joy, too. There were countless jokes and laughter between Nadal and Federer, even as they played hard for one final win. Djokovic and Murray, meanwhile, the only players qualified to give the pair tactical advice, frequently chimed in with their discussions during changeovers.
Roger Federer broke into tears
As the match ended, Federer’s composure finally broke. After he began to cry, Nadal wept alongside him throughout. Federer hugged his teammates and former rivals numerous times during the ceremony, before finally embracing his tearful family as he left the court.
“The last two days have been tough to say the least,” said Federer in his post-match press conference. “Thankfully in moments I totally forgot about it, slept great, everything was wonderful, I could enjoy it, I feel. And because of that I think I will be able to have a better recollection of how it went.”
“Because if it’s all just stress throughout and I want it to be only perfect, I know I will remember half of it. Because I felt the way I felt, I feel like I have dealt with my retirement strongly for the last month.”
Nadal said, “When Roger leaves the tour, an important part of my life is leaving too because of all the moments that he has been next or in front me in important moments of my life,” Nadal said. “So I have been emotional to see the family, see all the people. Difficult to describe, but amazing moment.”
Federer entered the O2 Arena physically compromised after 14 months of trying to return as a full-time player and he later said that he wasn’t always sure that he would even be healthy enough to play doubles. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. He has already given so much, for himself and the sport alike, and he leaves at 41 having accomplished a career as full as any.
“I was able to remind myself always on the court again how wonderful this is,” said Federer. “This is not the end-end – life goes on. I’m healthy, I’m happy, everything’s great, and this is just a moment in time.”
Many have tried to learn from aspects of Roger’s greatness in order to succeed, and his influence on other players is undeniable. But there will never be anyone like him.