O2 ARENA — And so here it is, Roger Federer’s Last Dance. The Swiss calls time on his 24-year career on Friday night, and rather fittingly Rafael Nadal will be beside him to help bring the curtain down.
This year’s Laver Cup became a blockbuster exhibition the moment Novak Djokovic was confirmed to be joining Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray in a star-studded Team Europe line-up back in July – but its significance became stratospheric when Federer announced last week that he would be retiring after the event.
Three right knee surgeries ended Federer’s hopes of a proper farewell tour – his last singles match will go down as a Wimbledon quarter-final defeat to Hubert Hurkacz last year that ended with a 6-0 set – but in playing doubles together with his closest rival at a tournament he helped create, the 41-year-old can still say he went out in style.
“I’m not sure if I can handle it all,” Federer said on Thursday. “I’ll try. I have had some tougher moments as well in the past, being horribly nervous, but this one definitely feels a whole lot different.
“Of course, it’s super special playing with Rafa. Feels really different, so to be able to do that one more time, I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful. I will try my very best.”
The 20-time grand slam winner will have grown used to hearing compliments throughout his career, and they arrived by the bucketload after his retirement note on social media last week.
But perhaps the reality of the moment only truly sunk in on Thursday when, just before the “Big Four” headed out for a popular warm-up doubles session on court at The O2, Federer sat there as his three greatest adversaries waxed lyrical about the man who kick-started this golden generation.
“As you get older as athletes and with some of the physical issues, you do think about when should you stop and when is the right moment and how would you like it to be,” said Murray.
Friday’s order of play
All times BST – Team Europe player(s) on left
1pm Day Session
- Match 1 – Casper Ruud vs Jack Sock – Singles
- Match 2 – Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Diego Schwartzman – Singles
7pm Night Session
- Match 3 – Andy Murray vs Alex de Minaur – Singles
- Match 4 – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal vs Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe – Doubles
How to watch Laver Cup
The Laver Cup will be live on Eurosport in the UK from 23-25 September, and available to stream on the Eurosport website and discovery+.
“It’s impossible to know, I think. But this, to me, I think it feels right, seeing him and Rafa on the same side of the net together and finishing as a team in this event with Bjorn [Borg] on the side of the court, John McEnroe there, Rod Laver in the stands.
“It is going to be a really cool way to end an incredible career. I have thought about it myself, but I don’t think there’s many better ways to go out than like this.”
Djokovic added: “Roger’s legacy will live forever. Of course, it’s a huge privilege and honour to be on this team, and considering what I have personally gone through on the court with Roger over the years, at the beginning of my career I was losing most of the matches against Roger and Rafa in the grand slams, and they have contributed a lot to the player I am today, figuring out how I can turn the tables. I’m very grateful to be part of that era.”
Will Djokovic play Australian Open?
During Thursday’s Team Europe press conference, Djokovic was asked about his US Open absence and hopes of playing in the Australian Open next year.
The Serbian missed both the grand slams in Melbourne and New York this year over his decision not to get a Covid vaccination, but he has no regrets and harbours hope that Australia will reopen its doors for him come January.
“I’m waiting for the news,” Djokovic of the Australian Open. “It’s really not in my hands right now. I’m hoping I can get some positive news soon.”
And on Carlos Alcaraz winning the US Open and shooting up to No 1 in the rankings, Djokovic added: “I don’t have any regrets. I do feel sad that I wasn’t able to play, but that was the decision that I made. I knew what the consequences would be, so I accepted them.
“I congratulate Alcaraz for winning US Open. He did it in an incredible fashion. He’s 19 years old and already No 1 in the world. It’s quite amazing what he has achieved so far. He’s a great addition to our sport, a great star.”
A Djokovic-Murray pairing could yet follow this weekend, with Murray talking up the prospect, but Friday’s focus is very much about Federer’s finale alongside Nadal, with the pair taking on Team World’s Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe in the last match of the evening session.
“The normal cycle of life is this, no?” said Nadal. “Some people leave and others need to come. Nothing new. History repeats always. Just this time it’s us, and in this particular case, it is probably one of the most – if not the most – important player in the history of this sport that is leaving after a super great and super long career.
“It is true that when the first is leaving, in your mind you miss something, no? And in a personal way, it is very, very, very sad news and a tough day.”
To which Federer added: “It feels good that I go first from the guys. It just feels right.”
That would explain why there were a few bleary eyes in Thursday’s press conference. Expect a few more on Friday evening, and going into the weekend as well.