Roger Federer hails 'amazing journey' as he bows out
LONDON - A tearful Roger Federer said he had been on an "amazing journey" after the final match of his outstanding tennis career ended in a defeat partnering long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a doubles at the Laver Cup in the early hours of Saturday.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, 41, and Nadal, playing for Team Europe, went down 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 9-11 against Team World's Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
"We'll get through this somehow," said Federer while being interviewed on court at London's O2 Arena by fellow Grand Slam winner Jim Courier.
"It's been a wonderful day," added the Swiss star, playing for the first time since Wimbledon 2021 because of a knee injury.
"I told the guys I'm happy, not sad. It feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoelaces once more, every thing was the last time.
"I didn't feel the stress so much even though I thought maybe something was going to go, like a calf, but the match was great.
"Playing with Rafa and having all the greats here, all the legends, thank you."
Having paid tribute to his wife and parents for their support, Federer added: "It does feel like a celebration...It's been an amazing journey."
In front of a 17,500 sell-out crowd at London's O2 Arena, Federer returned from more than a year away for a last dance in tandem with his great rival on a gripping and memorable finale by the Thames.
With the clock already well past midnight, the Swiss had the chance to seal victory in the doubles clash when he served at match point in a tense deciding tie-break but it was not to be.
After a brief moment of near silence around the packed arena, the crowd erupted to salute an emotional Federer.
The London crowd had to wait for the arrival of Federer and Nadal as British favourite Andy Murray and Alex De Minaur engaged in a series of interminable rallies in a grinding opening match of the night, eventually won by De Minaur.
Murray's two Wimbledon titles mean he is a national sporting icon but the night was all about Federer - a player who resides in the pantheon of sporting greats along with the likes of Pele, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.
Even Federer's practice sessions at the O2 were standing room only affairs and an electric atmosphere greeted him as he walked out into the cavernous arena alongside Nadal just after 10pm local time for what would be his last dance.
"I've done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who's coming tonight," Federer posted on Twitter earlier in the day.
It certainly felt that way too for everyone present in a crowd which included Australian great Laver - the man who inspired Federer to create the novel team event.
After the coin toss formalities, loud roars accompanied Federer and Nadal, otherwise knows as 'Fedal', as they warmed up to the sound of The Clash's London Calling booming around the venue - Federer raising his arm in salute after his introduction.
An even bigger cheer went up when he punched away a volley in the opening game - his first competitive shot since a demoralising defeat by Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2021 when he lost the last set 6-0.
During the changeovers the video screens showed some iconic moments of Federer's 24-year professional career with tributes from Nadal and his mother Lynette.
American duo Sock and Tiafoe, pantomime villains for the night, tested Federer's reactions with some lusty blows aimed at the Swiss maestro who would have demanded nothing less.
Federer was equal to pretty much everything though, his silky shot-making and nimble footwork very much intact despite such a long time away from the match court. The pair with a combined age of 77 and 42 Grand Slam titles between them clinched the opening set by breaking Tiafoe's serve.
Despite the party atmosphere in the stadium, there was no danger of Federer's farewell match turning into an exhibition. It was serious business and after they fell a break down early in the second, Federer and Nadal stormed back and looked poised for a straight-sets win but were instead dragged into a tense deciding tiebreak with the clock past midnight.
Chants of 'Let's Go Roger Let's Go' resounded around the packed stands as Federer and Nadal clawed their way towards a victory the occasion demanded but they fell agonisingly short. - AFP, REUTERS