The crowd’s seemingly endless applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger” reduced Federer to tears.
“I enjoyed tying my shoes for the last time, everything was the last time.”
The epic finish that clinched victory for the American pair was a strong and often emotional build-up to not only a match that far exceeded expectations in size and quality, but also a career that produced many. They have given moments of wisdom and joy to many.
In the year
The tournament, which featured nine head-to-head singles matches and three doubles matches, has attracted worldwide attention that was previously unreal, but this year’s edition is now undoubtedly one of the biggest tennis tournaments of the year.
Of course, this was mainly because it was Federer’s swansong, but it also offered tennis fans something they hadn’t seen in years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all healthy and competing together in the same tournament.
The social media posts from these four superstars in the week leading up to the show will surely leave fans feeling nostalgic. Akin to a group of school friends who haven’t been together in years, the quartet show true love for each other as they explore the landmarks of London.
Perhaps the nostalgia comes from the fact that the 2022 Laver Cup not only marked the end of Federer’s long and storied career, but also finally marked the beginning of a golden age of tennis.
With Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all in their 30s and all plagued by injuries for long stretches of their careers, their eventual retirements now loom large over the sport.
These four players — “the Big 3 plus some clowns,” as Murray humorously put it on his own Instagram page — officially deny the same competition.
Goodbye to a legend
In the men’s game, Federer’s record on court will be up for debate – although there is no doubt in the top three – that he is the greatest tennis player of all time.
Largely because of the way he played the game, no one in the sport has ever gained global acclaim, support or become a cultural icon like the suave Swiss superstar.
For most of his career, Federer seemed to glide around the court more than a trickster, his keys spilling and dribbling above his headband, his stunningly elegant one-handed backhand becoming an unprecedented and iconic shot of tennis.
Above all, it brought the beauty of the game — at the peak of its power — to unprecedented success. He became the first player to surpass the previous men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, and then the first player to reach the top 20.
While Nadal and Djokovic may now have more than just a grand total, Federer’s epic battles with these two players during his career have added to his legacy.
On another day, the three matches before Federer’s final farewell might have been interesting in their own right — Murray’s encounter with Alex de Minaur was a particularly interesting one — but today they felt good for the main event.
After Murray’s second match against de Minaur — the Australian won a third-set tiebreaker to earn the world team its first point of the day — Federer changed into shorts and a headband at Group Europe. He appeared ready to dig in and take to the court, adding to the steadily building anticipation in the arena.
In an on-court interview after the match, de Minaur spoke about how he was rooting for Team World against Nadal and Federer, prompting the 23-year-old to boo and burst into laughter from the crowd.
The man of the moment
When Federer finally walked onto the court, he was so surprised by the roar of the crowd that he completely drowned out the announcer’s voice before he could finish introducing the Swiss and his doubles partner, Nadal.
The 41-year-old’s performances in the heats drew another cheer, but the loudest cheer came when Federer hit a forehand to give him and Nadal the first points of the match.
For most of the opening exchanges, Federer zipped around the court with his trademark grace, but when he chased down a drop that didn’t land two meters in front of Tiafoe, Federer’s legs began to age. To show for the first time when he struggled to reach the ball.
Not that these moments happen often, a remarkable thought given his age and three knee surgeries. In fact, as he continues to show his impressive touch – especially at the net – you may be wondering why so many people are retiring in the capacity at the O2 Arena.
One moment in particular drew a gasp from the crowd as the big screens showed replays. Federer squeezed his hand through the small gap between the net and the post while chasing a short ball.
He may have lost the point when the ball went under the top of the net, but in the final game of his career, Federer was showing moments the likes of which had never been seen before on the tennis court.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there still seems to be plenty of magic in what many observers in the profession describe as more of a stick than a racket.
There were plenty of laughs from Federer and Nadal early on, including laughter when Federer misjudged his upcoming point plan and turned to his partner for another explanation, resulting in the Swiss casually holding his hands up in apology.
But as the first set wore on, the mood on the court changed as the fiercely competitive nature that had made these two players such a force over the years finally began to come to the fore.
Affectionately called ‘Fedal’ by fans, the atmosphere in the arena was on the verge of party mode as the pair won the first set 6-4.
But make no mistake, Sock and Tiafoe were by no means happy and let Federer ride off into the sunset with an easy victory. The American duo looked to spoil the party atmosphere early in the second set, but Federer and Nadal soon came back to equalize.
At 5-5 in the best match of the match, Nadal saved six break points — including back-to-back losses from Federer — to put the pair on the brink of victory.
But Sock then executed a tricky service game of his own to break the set. Federer — and the entire stadium — thought he had served the first point, only to receive a “let’s go” call. From the referee, who was booed by the entire arena.
Brilliant back-and-forth from the American duo closed out the second set and led to a thrilling decider.
The drama packed into the third set — a 3-0 lead opened and squandered by Federer and Nadal, Tiafoe breaking Federer’s back with a vicious forehand and Federer’s ovation — was fitting. Unparalleled Career Empowerment.
In the end, that didn’t matter as Federer couldn’t hold on for the win, and the emotion in his farewell speech — where he talked about his family’s support during his career — was also dampened. His double partner in tears.
“It feels like a celebration,” Federer said. “Finally what I wanted, exactly what I expected.”
CNN’s Ben Morse contributed to this report.