Laver Cup 2022 | The dream farewell of Roger Federer
“I didn’t want to feel lonely out there,“ said Roger Federer, in an emotional interview just after the end of his last professional tennis match, a doubles defeat which took place on the first day of The Laver Cup 2022.
Strange as it may sound, the concept of loneliness is no stranger to those on the pro-tennis circuit, curiously epitomized by those playing in a singles tennis match. Even communication with coaches is strictly regulated. The isolation of a player from the rest of the world around them is one of many fascinating aspects of the sport – an anti-reaction to loneliness is also why players like competitions such as the Davis or the Laver Cup: team events, where you don’t feel one against the world.
Farewell, Roger Federer
The challenges of a tennis career can also be something that applies to its end. It is impossible to foresee the precise moment when everything will finish. It is not football – there are no meaningless matches at the end of a season where you can take time to savor the moment. You win a game, have to play the next round, and so on until the final. You lose; it’s over – right here, right now. The only way to end on a high would be to win the final tournament of your career, which is a stringent requirement. And why should you retire in any case, if you’re still able to beat 5 professionals in a row?
Federer subtly avoided all that. In advance, he shared the date and time of the event – September 23rd, which was the day’s last match. The stage was top-level: the Laver Cup, which is a men’s competition between six of the best European players and six from the rest of the world, competing for three days in singles and doubles matches. Everybody who was anybody in tennis was there. The schedule was known in advance, featuring a doubles match with Rafael Nadal. The once-greatest rival turned ally and friend. It was a huge party, and everything was set.
Federer and Nadal eventually lost the match, against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock. Although there were those across TV and social media who protested that the American duo had played too much, the celebration was not affected by the game’s result. Then again, Federer is particularly familiar with losing at crucial moments, which is curious for a player who has won so many titles in the sport.
Winning by losing
As he pointed out via social media a few days afterwards, Federer had lost a fair number of games throughout his career. Included among these was the fact that Federer lost his last singles match, and he lost it in Wimbledon, the tournament he won a record-breaking eight times. He lost in straight sets against Hubert Hurkacz, with a sad, unforgiving 6-0 in the final one.
Two years before, he lost his last Slam final: again in Wimbledon, against Novak Djokovic. In one of the most memorable matches ever, Djokovic won in the final-set tiebreak after more than five hours, recovering from two match points earlier in the fifth set.
That could have been the perfect ending in many ways: settling a record-breaking nine Wimbledon Championships, aged 37, would have been the consummate achievement in one of the most successful careers in history. It would have been another Federer Moment, as David Foster Wallace famously named it, in a New York Times article where he described the moment “when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.”.
In the aftermath of his retirement, Federer’s coach, Ivan Ljubicic, denied that Federer was striving for a dream finale: “He never looked for a reason to end his career.” He just kept playing for the love of the game, and the game was grateful for that. By not looking for the perfect ending, Federer found the right way to say goodbye. His own.