In tears, Roger Federer greets the crowd at the O2 Arena after his last game as a pro. (Photo: Andrew Boyers)
One hundred and three singles and 8 doubles titles, 20 Grand Slam crowns, 1,251 wins, 310 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings (including 237 consecutive, between February 2004 and August 2008), over $ 117 million in prizes. The numbers are overwhelming, but they aren’t enough to fully measure the size of the figure that tennis shot this Friday. Roger Federer ended a career dazzling that has spanned 24 years. Beyond the sterile discussion about his status as the best of all time, his achievements, his game, his elegance and his charisma have turned him into a sports icon.
the farewell had arrived o2 arena londoncrowded by 20,000 spectators, and with a doubles match for the Laver Cup which he played alongside Rafael Nadal, who had already been his partner in this event in September 2017 (they had defeated Americans Sam Querrey and Jack Sock). On behalf of the Europa team, led by the Swede Bjorn Borgthese two old opponents and friends who met 40 times on the circuit (the Majorcan dominated the record 24-16) fell 4-6, 7-6 (7-2) and 11-9 against Sock and compatriot Frances Tiafoe , the duo of the World team, whose helmsman is John McEnroe.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle all this, but I’ll try,” said Federer on Thursday, who since his arrival in London, the city where he achieved his greatest feats (he was Wimbledon champion eight times), shared through the their accounts on social networks every activity carried out. “I’ve done it a thousand times, but this one looks different.”he tweeted a bit before going out to play, along with three photos of him carrying his kit bag and racket bag to the hotel he stayed at.
It was not known how Federer could respond to this situation. Both for the tension and for the physical state of him: 41 years old last month, affected by problems in his right knee that forced him to go to the operating room three times and with an inactivity of 443 days. His last game was on July 7 last year, when the Polish Hubert Hurkacz had beaten him 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0 in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.
After a video covering his career aired on the stadium screens, the Swiss showed that the magic was intact, even though the body no longer responded as before. Faced with a more solid a priori combination (Sock became number two in the world in the doubles), the two cracks showed cold blood to get out of some trouble (they raised a break point in the eighth game) and, at the first opportunity for break, they closed the first set 6-4 in 42 minutes of play.
In a much more relaxed environment than the one usually experienced in a circuit match, with smiles after a mistake and with the compliments of rivals after a success, the North American couple did not accept to be a simple partner, they recomposed themselves at the beginning of the second episode and broke Nadal’s serve in the third game. But with a few straight shots from Roger, the Europeans got back on track. Applause fell from the grandstand. One of those he encouraged as a fan was the German alexander zverev, absent due to injury to his right ankle. Nobody wanted to miss this feature.
Six break points were raised by Roger and Rafa in the eleventh game, with Manacorí’s serve, before reaching the tie break, while Federer’s parents Robert and Lynette clapped at the foot of the courthouse; his wife, Mirka Vavrinec; and their children, the twins Myla and Charlene and the twins Leo and Lenny. In that case, the Americans prevailed 7-2.
After 114 minutes of play in the 1,750th game of his career (1,526 in singles and 224 in doubles), Federer, already visibly tired, spent his last shots in the tie break. In a very close duel, he gave away a couple of good serves (including an ace) and some magical bursts that weren’t enough to avoid 11-9 defeat. However, this time the result was minimal.
Hugs with his teammates, with his rivals, with McEnroe, with Borg. An endless applause. Another video with a cascade of praise. And tears, many tears. Not only about him, but also about Nadal, the man who helped him get so great. The closing of the evening was pure emotion. “I was afraid of getting injured, but I managed to feel comfortable. Being together with Rafa and the other team members was fantastic. I’m not sad, I enjoyed playing once again. I didn’t want to feel alone when it was time to say goodbye. Thanks to my team, thanks to my family, thanks to everyone “he managed to say, moved as never before on a tennis court, a gentleman of sport.
In these days the sentence that Andy Roddick snapped at Federer in July 2005, after defeating him for the second consecutive time in a Wimbledon final had been dusted off: “I would like to hate you, but you are too kind”. Since the Swiss announced his farewell last Thursday, a cataract of praise has fallen on him, not only from colleagues and rivals, but also from athletes from other disciplines (including Lionel Messi) and personalities from different activities.
Confirmation that his last performance would be this Friday in London made resale managers start rubbing their hands: the most expensive ticket prices, which when they went on sale a couple of months ago were £ 375 ($ 407). ). ), they flew up to $ 50,000 and that didn’t stop them from selling like hot cakes in that parallel market. All this for the first day of a team tournament organized by Team8 (the agency that Federer himself directs together with his agent, Tony Godsick) and which despite having the support of the ATP does not distribute points for the ranking.
The fact that there were no beans at stake didn’t stop five of the top 10 in the world rankings (and 10 of the top 20) from being present in the British capital. However, all of them were relegated to supporting roles this Friday. All eyes and cell phone cameras at the O2 Arena were on Federer all day.
When they took the field for the start of the day, Nadal, Serbian Novak Djokovic and Scotsman Andy Murray, the other three members of the Big Four, who had starred with Roger in a training session on Thursday and then posed for photos in the River Thames. However, those receptions were small when the party’s star stepped onto the black painted surface.
The Swiss watched from a chair behind the bench of his team the first two games won by his teammates: first the Norwegian Casper Ruud beat Jack Sock 6-4, 5-7 and 10-7 and then the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas Diego Schwartzmann 6-2 and 6-1. During some breaks Roger came to the stands to sign autographs. The first segment of the third duel, the one played by Murray and the Australian Alex De Miñaur, followed him from the locker room, but he returned to the bench to encourage the English in the final stretch, who ended up losing 5-7, 6-3 and 10-7. Then it was her turn to give him the last concert.