Twenty-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has brought his legendary playing career to an end at the Laver Cup in London this evening.
The 41-year-old featured alongside long-time rival and friend Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the closing match of the opening day at the O2 Arena, narrowly losing to American duo Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe of Team World in a thrilling doubles encounter.
Federer’s announcement last week that this match would be the last of his glittering career ensured that the occasion became one of the most hotly-anticipated events in recent memory, and man of the hour visibly enjoyed his grand farewell despite ultimately ending up on the losing side.
Tears from the both Swiss maestro and Nadal – the opponent who has defined Federer’s career more than any other – greeted the realisation that perhaps the greatest career in men’s tennis history is now over, with the capacity crowd and great players of past and present honouring Federer with a long standing ovation after the match.
Both Federer and Nadal – winners of 42 Grand Slam titles between them – delighted the crowd with glimpses of the quality which brought them all of that success, although Sock and Tiafoe refused to go along with the script and ultimately spoiled the party.
A 6-4 triumph for Federer and Nadal in the opening set put them on course for one last triumph together, but Team World forced a tiebreak in the second despite failing to take advantage of six break points in the 11th game.
Sock and Tiafoe dominated that tiebreak to take all of the momentum into the first-to-10-points third-set decider, but Nadal seemed determined to send his friend off in winning fashion and quickly stormed Europe into a 3-0 lead.
However, Team World fought back to take the lead via a scarcely-believable pick-up winner from Sock which left even arguably the two greatest to ever play the game in awe on the other side of the net.
Federer and Nadal fought back once again, though, with the Swiss maestro hitting one final ace to put them back into a 6-5 lead before a thrilling, topsy-turvy tiebreak swung back in Team World’s favour again.
The finely-finessed Federer forehand provided one more moment of magic to bring it back to 7-7, before Tiafoe drew the ire of the crowd when he put his side back in front by hitting the ball straight at the retiring legend.
The team dubbed ‘Fedal’ then fought back once again and got to within one point of ensuring a winning end to Federer’s career, only for Sock and Tiafoe to recover from 9-8 down and ultimately win 11-9.
The eight-time Wimbledon champion, six-time Australian Open champion, five-time US Open winner and one-time French Open champion was emotional after the match as the grins and laughter which had been prevalent throughout the contest gave way to tears, and his were not the only ones.
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Nadal was also in tears as his greatest rival bowed out, while there were heartfelt embraces with other defining figures in his career such as Novak Djokovic and Sir Andy Murray as Federer soaked in a well-deserved final ovation.
Away from the headline of the curtain coming down on Federer’s revered time in the sport, the result leaves Team Europe and Team World level at 2-2 after day one of play in the tennis equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
Stefanos Tsitsipas then made light work of Diego Schwartzman to double Europe’s lead, before John McEnroe‘s Team World got themselves on the board through Alex de Minaur‘s third-set breaker win over home favourite Murray.
The day was also notable for a protestor bursting onto the court and setting fire to his own arm, seemingly in protest against climate change.
However, not even that could detract from Federer dominating the headlines on his swansong and, despite win number 1,252 of an unforgettable, legendary career eluding him, he departs as the greatest to have ever played the game in the eyes of many.