Roger Federer wrapped up his superlative professional tennis career at age 41 with a loss in doubles alongside longtime rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup on Friday night.
Federer, who won 20 Grand Slam titles, and Nadal, whose 22 are the men’s record, paired up for Team Europe and were beaten by Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9 at the O2 Arena.
“It’s been a perfect journey,” Federer said. “I would do it all over again.”
When the match, and with it, his time in professional tennis, ended, Federer hugged Nadal, then Tiafoe and Sock. And then Federer began crying. As cascades of clapping and yells of affection came from the stands, Federer put his hands on his hips, his chest heaving. Then he mouthed, “Thank you,” while applauding right back toward the spectators who had chanted, “Let’s go, Roger! Let’s go!” during the concluding moments of a match that lasted more than two hours and ended at about 12:30 a.m.
Federer announced last week that this team event founded by his management company would be his final event before retirement, then made clear the doubles outing would be his last match.
Until Friday, he had not competed anywhere since a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon in July 2021. Shortly after that, the Swiss star had a third operation on his right knee.
“For me, just personally, (it was) sad in the first moment, when I came to the conclusion it’s the best decision,” Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week about his emotions when realizing it was time to go. “I kind of held it in at first, then fought it off. But I could feel the pain.”
A couple of hours before Friday’s match, Federer tweeted: “I’ve done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who’s coming tonight.”
It was poetic that Federer would close things out by sharing a court with Nadal, who was often an on-court nemesis but became an off-court friend.
Before Federer, the men’s mark for most major tennis championships was 14 by Pete Sampras. Federer blew past that, accumulating eight at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the U.S. Open and one at the French Open.
His substantial resume includes 103 career singles trophies in all, 310 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a Davis Cup title and Olympic medals. Beyond his elegance and effectiveness on court, Federer was seen as a statesman for tennis, someone whose immense popularity helped drive fans to the sport.