Federer heads into the sunset with a loss but love eternal at the Laver Cup

·5-min read
AP - Kin Cheung

And with the forehand winner down the tram lines, the wonder was over. Roger Federer moved into retirement with a defeat in the doubles in the fourth match of the 2022 Laver Cup.

At his side for the swan song was Rafael Nadal, the erstwhile nemesis turned compadre who helped him transport tennis into the sublime.

The 36-year-old Spaniard was in tears as the video tributes boomed out on the giant screens inside the 02 Arena at nearly 1am on Saturday morning.

Team World captain John McEnroe anointed Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe as bad guys at the farewell party on Friday night. And they took to their task with admirable aplomb.

The two Americans – playing for the first time together - came from a set down to save a match point and take the third set match tiebreaker 11 points to nine.

Fans

The 17,000 fans who had come for the last glorious waltz of the Swiss maestro applauded the skills of the villains as politely as they roared on every marvel from the European dream duo.

But theirs has been a status founded upon prowess in singles matches.

Federer's fractured frame has thwarted any chance of a match in that discipline during the three days of the competition.

But he managed to deploy enough the wizardry at the business end of the first set for him and Nadal to steal the opener 6-4.

Skills

Their opponents though were sharper in the second set tiebreak. They claimed four consecutive points to take it 7-2 and send the match into a 10-point match tiebreaker.

On Friday afternoon, Sock made a couple of errors during a similar shoot-out to lose his singles match against Casper Ruud.

Following the defeat, Team World’s vice-captain Patrick McEnroe said his players would continue to battle for the slightest chance to win such tight affairs.

Tiafoe and Sock bore out his homily. They held their nerve when facing a match point on Federer’s famed serve to make it nine points apiece. Their doughtiness was amply rewarded.

Grit

They won the next point too before Sock’s screamer claimed the win to level the tie at two points apiece after the first four matches

That result became almost secondary as the eulogies started to flow from the screens accompanied by chants of “Roger, Roger” from the thousands who stayed to adore their idol.

Inevitably, the tears. The gawky boy wonder who blubbed after winning Wimbledon in 2003 was unable to produce elder statesman stoicism.

Joy

“I told my teammates I was happy and not sad,” he said. “But I was tying my shoe laces for the last time and I thought something might go during the match like my back or something,” added the 41-year-old.

“I’m happy I made it to the end in front of so many legends. I wanted it to feel like a celebration. I’ve been happy to play tennis. It has been a perfect journey and I would do it all over again.”

The record books will show statistics such as 310 weeks as world number one including a record 237 weeks consecutively.

He was the first male player to reach 20 Grand Slam singles titles before being surpassed by Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Achievements

Though they have bettered him in that line of silverware and boast better head-to-head records over him, the purists acknowledge him as the most sleek and stylish man to grace a tennis court.

Off court his charm and wit won him legions of admirers.

“We were bawling out there afterwards,” said Sock. “It felt competitive while we were playing. We had 99.9 per cent of the crowd against us but it was super fun to be part of Roger’s last match.”

Nadal admitted his nerves had led to his double fault to open the encounter. “I was shaking," said the 22-time Grand Slam champion.

Emotion

"Every little thing was difficult during the day. For me it was a great honour to be part of this amazing moment in the history of our sport and at the same time thinking about all the years we’ve been sharing things together .

“When Roger leaves the tour an important part of my life is leaving too. It was emotional seeing all his family and all the people … difficult.”

The two have been built a firm friendship. “I’m happy that I can call up Rafa and talk about anything," said Federer.

"And I hope he feels the same way. We have a lot to look back on and I feel that any evening we spend together, we never have enough time.”

Federer’s 24 years on the circuit will be registered as a treasure trove when men’s tennis enjoyed glittering jewels in the shape of Andy Murray, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Only a handful of players – Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka - managed to stop Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and to a lesser extent Murray from annexation of the Grand Slam tournaments.

Nadal and Djokovic, at 36 and 35 respectively, remain the most likely of the former "Big Four" to win more majors.

Djokovic will feature during the second day of the Laver Cup when two points are awarded for a win.

Alex de Minaur won Team World's first point of the competition when he came from a set down to beat Murray 5-7, 6-3, 10-7.

The Briton was not the only veteran to fall during the first day. But he will play again.

Unlike Federer.