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.
Federer, who won 20 Grand Slam titles, and Nadal, whose 22 are the men’s record, paired up for Team Europe and were beaten on Friday night by Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9 at the O2 Arena in London.
In front of a 17,500 sell-out crowd at the O2, Federer returned from more than a year away for a last dance in tandem with his great rival on a gripping and memorable finale by the Thames.
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.
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.
With the clock already well past midnight (23:00 GMT), Federer had the chance to seal victory in the doubles clash when he served at match point in a tense deciding tiebreak but it was not to be as Americans Sock and Tiafoe ruined the script.
Sock thumped a forehand winner to seal a 4-6 7-6 11-9 win for Team World.
After a brief moment of almost silence around the packed arena, the crowd erupted to salute an emotional Federer.
Even Federer’s practice sessions at the O2 were standing room only affairs and an electric atmosphere greeted him as he walked out into the cavernous arena alongside Nadal just after 10pm local time (21:00 GMT) for what would be his last dance.
“I’ve done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who’s coming tonight,” Federer had posted on Twitter earlier in the day.
I’ve done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who’s coming tonight. pic.twitter.com/lmPWTNzjbn
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) September 23, 2022
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 US Open and one at the French Open.
His substantial resume includes 103 career singles trophies in all, 310 weeks at number one 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.