A tearful Roger Federer waved goodbye to professional tennis after teaming up with fellow great Rafael Nadal on an emotional night at the Laver Cup.
The 41-year-old received an extended ovation after walking off court for the final time as he retired as a professional. The Swiss, who won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, is considered one of the best players in tennis history.
“It’s been a wonderful day. I’m happy, not sad. It feels great to be here. I’m happy I made it through,” he said.
Federer cried as he hugged Nadal and other players, then took acclaim from the thousands of fans who chanted his name at the O2 Arena in London.
Nadal also could not hold back the tears. The 36-year-old Spaniard cried as he sat alongside Federer while the pair listened to British singer Ellie Goulding, who rounded off a memorable night with a performance.
Federer and Nadal – for so long rivals at the top of the men’s game – joined forces to play doubles against American pair Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe in the annual team event between Europe and the rest of the world.
Despite Federer not having played competitively for over a year, the veteran duo pushed Sock and Tiafoe before losing 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 11-9 as Team World levelled at 2-2 at the end of play on an opening day.
Federer and Nadal – affectionately nicknamed ‘Fedal’ – almost won it. The pair had a match point at 9-8 in the decider, but Federer could only lunge for a forehand which he pushed into the net.
The defeat brought the former world number one’s 25-year professional career to a close after his 1,750th competitive match across singles and doubles.
“It’s been the perfect journey. I’d do it all again,” said Federer as tried to hold back tears during his on-court speech.
What Federer means to tennis and his fans
Not only did Federer push boundaries with his play and set many records, he also became one of the most popular tennis players ever.
His style of play – balletic, graceful and fluent – has endeared him to millions of fans worldwide. So too, has his polite and charming personality.
Federer transcends tennis. For some, he almost transcends the world.
Before the match, you could see hundreds of fans filing into the arena wearing Federer-branded clothing and accessories.
Hats, T-shirts, scarves, banners and even custom-made earrings. All red and white – the national colours of Switzerland – with most emblazoned with the initials of their hero: RF.
A few Swiss flags were also draped around the indoor arena.
One Federer super-fan at the O2 Arena, Robert Springer from Poland, described his idol as the ‘King of Tennis”.
“He has quality, empathy, a super sportsman, a gentleman and a good father. Plus, he always has time for his fans. He’s the one and only,” Robert told BBC Sport.
Tickets for the night session on Friday were already sold out before Federer announced he would retire after the annual team event last week.
Initially, they were available for between £40 and £510. Following the news, they were being offered on resale platforms for over £1,000 each.
Despite the match finishing at 00:26 BST, with the celebrations continuing for about another half an hour, few of those present left before the end.
“Thank you, everybody. I’ve had so many people cheer me on, and you guys here tonight mean the world,” said Federer, who later added he was “really scared” about speaking on the court because he knew he would get emotional.
“This is not the end-end, you know; life goes on. I’m healthy and happy, everything’s great, and this is just a moment in time.”