Roger Federer paired up with Rafael Nadal last time out, falling in the doubles at the Laver Cup.

LONDON — This day, this match, must come Roger Federer And for tennis, every athlete in every sport must inevitably have it.

Federer bid farewell on Friday night with one last match before retiring at the age of 41 after an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a Statesman role. He ended his days as a professional player with a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9 doubles win over his long-time rival. Rafael Nadal For Europe against Laver Cup Francis Thiafoe And Jack Zach Group of the world.

Winners, stats and score don’t matter and are all completely beside the point. The occasion is, after all, about saying goodbye. Or, better, farewell: Federer to tennis, to fans, to his rivals and colleagues. And, naturally, each of those institutions bid farewell to Federer.

“It was a perfect trip,” Federer said. “I would do it again.”

After the match, and with it, his time in professional tennis, Federer hugged Nadal, then Tiafoe and Zach. Then Federer started crying. Federer put his hands on his hips and pounded his chest as applause and cheers erupted from the arena. Then he mouthed “Thank you” and said, “Let’s go, Roger! Let’s go!” He clapped to the chanting audience. In the final moments of the match which lasted for over two hours and ended at 12:30 am

The Swiss star announced last week that the three-day team event, set up by his management company, would be his final event before retirement, then clarified that the doubles event would be his last. Her surgically repaired right knee — the last of three surgeries that came shortly after her Wimbledon quarterfinal loss in July 2021, which will go on to be her final official singles match — is not in a position to allow her to continue.

“For me, personally, [it was] It was sad in the first moment, and when I got to the end it was the best end,” Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week about his emotions when he realized it was time to go. “I accepted it first, then fought it. But I could feel the pain.”

Two hours before Friday’s match, Federer tweeted: “I’ve done this thousands of times but this feels different. Thank you everyone for coming tonight.”

He said he wanted it to be a party rather than a funeral, and when Federer and Nadal — each wearing a white bandana, blue shirt and white shorts — emerged together, the crowd erupted into loud and long applause. From a tunnel leading to the black court for the final match on Day 1 at the O2 arena. Spectators were on their feet for about 10 minutes through the pre-match warm-up, holding up phone cameras to capture the moment.

They came ready to roar for him, some with Swiss flags, some with homemade signs, and heard themselves in a wall of sound when Federer delivered a forehand volley winner on the second point of the match. Similar reactions followed when the chair umpire announced before the third game, “Roger Federer to serve,” and again ended the match with a 117-mile service winner.

The Twins require much less movement and court coverage, and certainly, the stress on his knee was minimal Friday. Federer showed his old prowess and, of course, was rusty as expected.

While his parents and wife were sitting in front row seats behind a baseline, there were two early forearms that traveled several feet long. A forehand slid right between Zach and Tiafoe and looked too good to be true — and, as it turned out: The ball traveled a gap below the net tape, so the point was taken away from Federer and Nadal. .

Although it was a glorious exhibition, all four doubles participants played like they wanted to win. It was especially evident when Zach jumped and screamed after a terrible volley or when Tiafoe sent two shots over Federer and Nadal.

But circumstances allowed for moments of levity.

Federer and Nadal managed to laugh it off after some confusion over who should go for a ball on their lost point. After Nadal somehow curled a back-net shot around the post only to land well wide, Tiafoe reached out to congratulate the effort.

In the first set, the game’s two giants couldn’t hear each other properly between points, so Federer returned from the net to the baseline to confer with Nadal, then flashed his ear to signal to the fans what the problem was. .

Before Federer, the men’s mark for most major tennis championships was Pete Sampras’ 14. Federer surpassed the new mark of eight at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the US Open and one at the French Open, while Nadal now has 22, and Novak DjokovicAs part of a golden age for the game, with 21, equaled and then surpassed.

Federer’s impressive resume includes 310 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings, a Davis Cup title and Olympic medals. Beyond elegance and efficiency when handling a racket, his personality made Federer an ambassador for tennis, his immense popularity helping to attract fans.

Of course, there are those who find it more fitting to see Federer finish across the net from Nadal, often an on-court nemesis, but ultimately an off-court friend. It could have been 15 miles away on Center Court at the All England Club, or Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros, or Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park, or even Arthur Ashe Stadium, the centerpiece of the US Open. , the only Grand Slam match they never faced, somehow.

Perhaps they gave everyone one final installment of one of the most memorable — or indeed any other — head-to-head matches in their sport’s long history.

Roger vs. Rafa — each only needs one name — McEnroe vs. Borg (the two Laver Cup team captains are John and Bjorn), Evert vs. Navratilova, Sampras Vs. Agassi, Ali vs. Frazier, Magic vs. Bird, Brady vs. Manning, and more.

Over the years, Federer and Nadal have played 40 of their matches, 14 in Grand Slams and nine in major finals: righty vs. lefty, attacker vs. Grinder, effortless and relentless intensity.

Yet there was an inescapable element of poetry with these two men who challenged each other, partnered each other, clapped hands and shared smiles.

“Two ‘goats’ playing together,” Zach said, using the popular acronym for “all-time great.”

Serena Williams, owner of 23 major singles championships, is making this farewell after a third-round loss at the US Open three weeks ago. It leaves questions about the future of a sport he and she have dominated and defied for decades.

One key difference: Every time Williams took the court in New York, the question mark was how long he would stay — a “win or this” prospect. Regardless of the result, it’s Friday for Federer.

“All the players will miss him,” he said Casper RootIn singles, he beat Zach 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.

Other results saw Team Europe and Team World tied 2-2: Stephanos Tsitsipas Defeated Diego Schwartzman A 6-2, 6-1 win was briefly interrupted when an environmentalist protester lit part of the court and his hand on fire, and Alex de Minaur passed. Andy Murray 5-7, 6-3, 10-7.

As play began shortly after Murray’s loss, Federer and Nadal first gave him some coaching tips, then watched part of it together on TV in the arena room, waiting for their turn. While Federer and Nadal were in action, Djokovic’s method suggested strategic advice.

The last hurray came after Federer had a total of 103 career singles titles and 1,251 wins, second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era that began in 1968.

At the height of his powers, Federer made 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals from 2005-07, winning eight. Extend that to 2010, when he reached 18 of 19 major finals.

More than those numbers, a powerful forehand, a one-handed weave, impeccable footwork, a spectacularly efficient serve and penchant for finding the net, a willingness to reinvent aspects of his game — and — a piece everyone will remember he did. Pride — extraordinary longevity.

“I don’t think we’ll see another one like Roger,” Tiafoe said. “The way he played, the grace with which he did it, he’s just an individual.”

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