The eyes of fans and sports’ cognoscenti around the world are witnessing one of the biggest goodbyes to an athlete tennis has known.
Ever since Roger Federer announced his retirement, a guessing game has ensued: when would he play his first and last match at Laver Cup 2022? Who might he pair with in doubles?
The Swiss maestro provided the answer Wednesday afternoon at London’s O2 Arena in a briefing with the press. It was his first media conference since taking to social media last week to break the news that prompted a flood of praise for his glittering career, well wishes and sadness.
Indeed the 20-time Grand Slam winner — whose contribution to tennis surpasses even his plethora of trophies — said doubles in Friday’s night session at The O2 would mark the last time he ever steps on court as a pro.
And the 41-year-old didn’t rule out long-time oncourt rival and friend Rafael Nadal partnering him on Team Europe.
“For me it will be special to share the court with anybody, regardless,” said Federer, who last competed in the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinals against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, before being sidelined with a knee injury.
“It will be special because I haven’t been on a tennis court for so, so long.
“And I know it’s going to be a crazy stadium with unbelievable fans, with the team there. But of course, if it were to be Rafa, I find it quite ironic that it would be the two of us playing my last match. We’ll see how it goes.”
Call it Laver Cup deja vu if it transpires.
The pair sent tennis fans into a frenzy when they played doubles together at the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague in 2017.
Their differing styles have produced numerous classics as they graced the overwhelming majority of tennis’ grandest stages.
“I think it could be quite a unique situation if it were to happen, for as long as we battled together to having always this respect for one another, the families, our coaching teams,” said Federer.
“We always got along really well.”
“For us as well to go through a career that we both have had and to come out on the other side and being able to have a nice relationship, I think is maybe a great message as well, to not just tennis but sports and maybe even beyond. For that reason I think it would be great.”
Federer joins Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Casper Ruud, and Stefanos Tsitsipas onTeam Captain Bjorn Borg’s formidable side.
“It’s going to be a crazy week, but a good one,” said Federer, who idolized Borg as a child. “And having Novak, Rafa and Andy there obviously adds even more to it all. It almost looks like I organized it this way, but I really didn’t. I was just really happy that everybody was eager to play.
“We have never had Andy on the team and so having him on the team is going to be very special. I know it, especially with what he has gone through in terms of injuries. And then I think me, too, announcing (my retirement). I think we have a lot to talk about.”
That Federer’s career concludes in London is certainly apt.
He opened his Grand Slam account west of The O2 Arena at Wimbledon in 2003, tallying a men’s record eight titles overall at the grass court major. The last two of his six titles at the ATP Finals also came at The O2.
“I’m happy to do it here in London,” said Federer. “Thinking about it, this city has been special to me. Maybe the most special place with Wimbledon down the road and here at The O2. (Having) played here and qualified for so many years and won here as well. I just thought it was very fitting. I have always enjoyed the crowds here as well.
“Having Bjorn on the bench with me for my final game resonated also in a big way with me. Having all the other guys around just felt like I was not going to be lonely announcing my retirement.
“Not that I wanted to hijack this event or anything, but I always feel sorry for players who sometimes retire on the tour, say, ‘I’m going to play one more match,’ then at one point you lose and there you stand all alone. Obviously 99% of the time you will lose at one point because only one guy wins the tournament.
“I just felt like this works very well here.”
Federer won’t be alone. His peers, thousands at The O2 and millions watching worldwide will make sure of that.