An emotional Roger Federer said goodbye to professional tennis by teaming up with fellow great Rafael Nadal on an emotional night at the Laver Cup.
The 41-year-old received a long ovation after he walked off the court for the last time after retiring as a professional.
Considered one of the best players in Swiss tennis history to have won 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
“It’s been a wonderful day. I’m happy, not sad. It’s great to be here. I’m glad I got over it,” he said.
Federer wept, hugged Nadal and other players, then drew praise from 17,500 fans who chanted his name.
Nadal also could not hold back his tears. The 36-year-old Spaniard cried while sitting beside Federer while the pair heard British singer Ellie Goulding round up a memorable night with a performance.
Federer and Nadal – for so long rivals at the top of the men’s game – joined forces to play doubles against American pair Jacques Sock and Frances Tiafo in the annual team event between Europe and the rest of the world.
Despite Federer not playing competitively for over a year, the pair pushed Sock and Tiafo before losing 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 11-9 at the O2 Arena.
It closed the 25-year professional career of the former world number one after his 1,750th competitive match in singles and doubles.
“It’s been the right journey. I’ll do it all over again,” Federer said, trying to hold back tears during his on-court speech.
Federer threw the retirement celebration he wanted
Federer had talked about throwing a party to mark his final match, saying that he wanted the occasion to be fun and not a funeral.
There was a festive atmosphere in the 17,500-capacity arena as per his wish.
Watched by his wife Mirka, their four children, his parents Robert and Lynette, Federer’s every move was greeted with cheers that felt euphoric and sympathetic at the same time.
The family later joined him on the court during a long celebration, which saw many more tears and Federer being flown by his fellow players.
Federer said, “It’s everyone here, boys and girls. My wife has been very supportive. She could have stopped me a long time ago, but she didn’t.”
“He let me go and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing – thank you.”
The presence of several tennis luminaries including Rod Laver, along with celebrities including Hollywood actor Hugh Grant and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, added to the occasion.
Current world number one Carlos Alcaraz and Inga Swietek tweeted their feelings while watching the match on television, as did Federer’s Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka.
Federer was only fit enough to play doubles with a knee injury and limited his movement.
Later, he joked that he was happy to get through the match without straining his calf or back muscles.
“Being with friends and family and friends, I didn’t feel so stressed, even though I thought something would happen during the match,” Federer said.
“I’m so glad I made it and the match was great. I couldn’t be happier.”
What Federer means to tennis and his fans
Not only did Federer push boundaries with his game and set new records, he also became one of the most popular tennis players of all time.
His playing style – which has been described as ballistic, graceful and fluent – has made him the darling of millions of fans around the world. Similarly, he also has a humble and charming personality.
Federer has overtaken tennis. For some, he almost surpasses the world.
Before the match, you could see hundreds of fans entering the arena wearing Federer-branded clothing and accessories.
Hats, T-shirts, scarves, banners and even custom-made earrings. All red and white – Switzerland’s national colors – shining brightest in the initials of its protagonist: RF.
Some Swiss flags were also wrapped around the indoor arena.
Poland’s Robert Springer, a Federer super-fan at the O2 Arena, described his idol as the ‘King of Tennis’.
“He has quality, empathy, a super sportsman, a gentleman and a good father. Plus he always has time for his fans. He is alone,” Robert told BBC Sport.
Tickets for Friday night’s season were already sold out, before Federer announced last week that he was going to retire after the annual team event.
Following the news, they were being offered on the resale platform for over £1,000. Initially they were available for between £40 and £510.
Despite the match ending at 00:26 BST, some of the attendees left before the end, with celebrations continuing for almost half an hour.
Federer said, “Thank you all. I’ve made a lot of people happy and you guys mean the world here tonight.”
|20 grand slam singles title||310 week as world number one|
|103 ATP Title||28 Masters 1,000 titles|
|6 ATP Finals victory||31 grand slam final|
|1 Davis Cup win||£114m career prize money|