In tears, Roger Federer says goodbye to tennis in London

Roger Federer (left) after his final doubles match with Rafael Nadal, at the O2 Arena in London, on September 23, 2022.

History will not remember the outcome of the 1,750me Y Roger Federer’s last professional match, but the images will not fade soon. Starting with those long minutes in which, after the midnight chime that Big Ben gave on Friday, September 23, we saw the Swiss share endless sobs with Rafael Nadal, sitting next to him.

After a quarter of a century on the circuit, the master of ceremonies had imagined the ideal casting as a grand final, in London: playing a double final with the Spaniard, eighteen years after the first of his 40 head-to-head matches. expensive For decoration? “His” Laver Cup, the exhibition he launched in 2017 modeled after the Ryder Cup in golf, where, for three days, top European players challenge not just Americans, but “the rest of the world.”

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Like Björn Borg and John McEnroe, the two captains of the competition, the stylistic contrast between righties and lefties will go down in the history of the game. Elegance, “innate” talent (at least in appearance) and cold blood worked for Federer. The show of strength along with biceps, tireless work and the nerves of a warrior for Nadal.

Two rivals who have become ” friends “ who end up being partners, the conclusion was perfect and the marketing coup too. For two days, the bromance was cleverly staged, the two players multiplied sweet words and knowing smiles in front of the lenses and the cameras. “He will be the boss on Friday”the Swiss had warned the day before. “One of the players, if not THE most important player of my career”, the Mallorcan flattered him in return. On Saturday morning, the eyes of the minor (36 years old) were still red: “Being a part of this historic moment for our sport has been difficult to deal with and full of emotions. Roger leaving the circuit, it’s a big part of my life that evaporates. »

On the night of his jubilee, Roger Federer no longer had the legs to play a singles match, but at 41, the icon showed he still had a bit of magic in his racket. Like this surgical forehand whose ball went through a mouse hole, piercing the end of the net rail.

“I’m happy, not sad, thank you”

Regardless of his loss to American pairing Jack Sock-Frances Tiafoe, the main thing on Friday was elsewhere. “It was a wonderful trip, if I had to do it again I would do it exactly the same, I’m happy, not sad, thank you”, managed to articulate the hero of the evening between two setbacks, first of all his united clan, some glorious elders (Rod Laver, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier…), his main rivals and 17,500 fans in an O2 Arena won by a collective tearful effusion.

Roger Federer looked triumphant, after his last official match, at the O2 Arena in London, on September 23, 2022.

The jocularity of Providence that sees the big story collide with the little story. On Monday, the United Kingdom buried its queen; On Friday, the tennis world said goodbye to its king.

Farewells that Roger Federer did not want to take with the appearance of “burial”. The former world number 1, on the contrary, had imagined them as a moment. “festive”, it is not really celebrated in the strictest privacy. rejoiced in“Having Björn Borg on the bench, with all the guys at his side. I’ve always felt sad seeing players retire, 90% of the time you lose and you’re on your own.” he said Wednesday at a news conference.

During training Thursday afternoon, the crowd felt like they had jumped into a time machine when members of the ‘Big 4’, a nickname that appeared in the late 2000s to describe their gluttony, appeared on the pitch. On one side of the net, Federer and Nadal, on the other the Serbian Novak Djokovic and the British Andy Murray, 66 Grand Slam titles between them. Even if the 3,000 British schoolchildren invited just shouted for “Roger, Roger, Roger”.

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A memory of the idol

At the official Laver Cup store, at the entrance to the stadium, the queue was always full on Friday to bring back at all costs -literally- a souvenir of the idol. “People are ready to shell out a lot of money, we had a fan who bought 40 caps, says Kula, one of the supervisors. It’s quite surreal, but at the same time it’s very exciting to say that we are part of this historical moment. »

With three bundles under his arm and a navy blue cap with the “RF” logo on his head, Riku Takagi leaves the store relieved of £350 (about 390 euros), but with a pile of T-shirts, towels and another sweatshirt. . The 21-year-old Japanese man, a ‘Rodgeur’ fan since he was 10, had specially arrived from Tokyo the day before. In May he paid 2,500 euros to buy tickets for the three days. “These are memories that will live forever,” he justifies.

In the square, that same morning, the fan-zone was largely occupied despite unfavorable weather, in tune with the mood of the day among the fans of the first hour. Did you miss the last appearance of the “master”? The idea was unthinkable for Gabriela Butler, from Ittenthal (Switzerland), red and white sweatshirt and matching “RF” earrings. Next to her, Renée Vorpel and Tani Christians, respectively from Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium), each more than a hundred games as spectators on the clock.

These three members of the self-proclaimed “fans4roger” “official fan club” from Switzerland, they tell themselves “asleep” since they learned of their champion’s decision. “We expected it given his age, but it’s still a shock; last night, when we met, we cried all night, “ Tany says. “He was classy on and off the pitch, spontaneous, full of humor,” Gabriela remembers. “When you met him, he gave you the impression that he really cared about you,” adds Renée, who was looking forward to one last dance at Wimbledon.

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Walk out the front door

The main interested party would also have dreamed of a big exit, a last appearance on “his” blessed lawn, where he triumphed eight times. Or a farewell party at his home in Basel, his hometown (a tournament he won ten times, all 103me and last title of his career).

For a long time he believed that he would be capable of a definitive “return”. At Wimbledon in early July, impeccably brushed suit and tie, the Swiss received the loudest ovation among the list of legends who came to celebrate the centenary of Center Court. “I said on the field that I hoped to come back one more time and I was sincere, said this week. But ten days later the knee was still at the same stage, I saw no further progress. » A scanner went by shortly after the death sentence sounded. “There I said to myself: OK, I understood. This time it’s over. »

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A page in tennis history was turned on Friday. But the retired youngster already has an appointment with his fans, either in the next exhibition tournaments or as a distinguished guest at the Grand Slam. He made the promise: “I will not be a ghost like Björn Borg. »

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