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Federer in farewell and holding Nadal’s hand: ‘Maybe it’s a secret thank you’


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Roger Federer, recently retired, was back in Switzerland on Monday night, returning from London, where he ended a lightning farewell to his competitive career with a final match in the Laver Cup.

He partnered with his rival-friend Rafael Nadal in doubles for Team Europe, losing a close match to Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock, who also won the Laver Cup for the first time in five attempts.

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But the defeat was secondary to the occasion – an intense and emotional goodbye for Federer and those around him, including his wife Mirka and their four children, as well as Nadal and fellow opponent Novak Djokovic.

Federer, 41, has long established himself as one of the greatest players in tennis history, but after breaking Pete Sampras’ men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles in 2009, he decided to play for another 13 years. won another five majors and at age 36 he became the oldest male number 1 player since the advent of the ATP rankings in 1973.

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His farewell marks the beginning of the end of a golden age in men’s tennis, in which Nadal, Djokovic and Federer developed rich and lasting rivalries, elevating each other and their sport. Federer, for all his longevity and court genius, now ranks third in Grand Slam titles, behind Nadal with 22 and Djokovic with 21.

I first interviewed Federer in February 2001 in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland, when he was a teenager and had yet to win his first major tournament. On Monday night, we spoke on the phone about these 21 years and their goodbye to competition:

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

So how do you feel now that it’s really over? I think I feel complete. I lost my last singles match. I lost my last doubles match. I lost my voice from screaming and supporting the team. I lost the last time as a team. I lost my job, but I’m very happy. I am well. I’m really fine. That’s the ironic part, everyone thinks of happy endings in fairy tales, you know? And for me, it actually ended up being that, but in a way I never thought it would happen.

Rafa Nadal clearly made a big effort to be a part of the event on Friday, given his wife’s pregnancy. What did it mean, knowing everything you knew, for him to be there for you in the doubles? I called him after the US Open – I waited for him to finish that tournament – ​​just to let him know of my retirement. I just wanted him to know before he started making some plans without counting the Laver Cup. I told him on the phone that I was probably 50-50 or 60-40 on doubles. I told him, “Look, I’ll keep you posted. You let me know how things are at home. And let’s reconnect.”

But it soon became clear over the phone, and Rafa told me: “I’m going to try everything to be there with you.” That was obviously amazing to me. And it showed once again how much we mean to each other and how much we respect each other. And I thought it would be a beautiful, amazing story for us, for the sport, for tennis, and maybe beyond that too, where we can co-exist in a tough rivalry and come out on top, showing that, hey, it’s just tennis. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes brutal, but it’s always fair. And you can come out on the other side and still have this great friendly rivalry. I just thought it turned out even better than I ever thought it would. So it was an incredible effort by Rafa, and obviously I’ll never forget what he did for me in London.

These raw emotions after the match were powerful for many people around the world, especially the scenes with you and Rafa. Do you think it changed the way people view male athletes? I think I’ve always had a hard time keeping my emotions in check, winning and losing. At first it was more about being angry and sad and crying. And then I was happy, crying for my victories. I think on Friday that was another beast, to be blunt, because I think all the guys —Andy (Murray), Novak, and also Rafa — saw their careers flash in front of their eyes, knowing that all of us, in a way, , we have been in overtime for quite some time. As you get older, into your 30s, you start to know what you really appreciate in life, but also in sport.

Have you ever seen your picture with Rafa, sitting on the bench crying and holding hands? Already.

What is it like to look at this image? Well, I mean, it was a quick moment. I think at one point I was crying so hard, and I don’t know, everything was going through my head about how happy I was to actually live this moment right there with everyone. And I think that’s what was so beautiful, just being there taking it all in, while the music was playing, and the focus was maybe more on her. [a cantora Ellie Goulding]. So you almost forget you’re still being photographed. I think at one point, just because obviously I couldn’t speak and there was the music, I think I just touched him, and I think maybe it’s a secret thank you. I don’t know what it was, but for me maybe it was that and how I felt, and some pictures came out of it. Different photos. Not just this one, but others too, which were completely crazy, you know, with different angles, and I hope to get these because they mean so much to me.

That moment when you’re talking to your kids and telling them: I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m happy. I think any parent could relate to that. I didn’t know people could hear that. They looked so sad, and when I told them I was retiring, also three of them were crying because they think I’m sad about it, but I really am not. And, of course, a moment like that is very powerful in the arena. It was hard not to cry at some point, and not just hard for them.

You have dehydrated the world. We have to recharge those tears.

You said, “It’s time to stop. That’s what I feel.” Is this mainly based on the feeling that you just can’t move the way you need to to compete on tour anymore? That’s part of it. It’s also age, let’s face it. And going really deep, I don’t see the point. I’ve tried so hard in the last few years that it’s okay. You know, it’s okay. And you get to a point where, you know, when I had the surgery last year, I knew it was going to be a long way back. And it would probably take a year.

So, of course, in my dream, I saw myself playing again, but I was very realistic about the comeback. Number 1, I did it for my personal life. I knew it was the right thing to do: let’s fix this leg and everything. For that, I had to do a proper rehabilitation. If I retire, I know I won’t do my rehab right. So if I stay active and I’m still a professional tennis player, I know I’m going to do 100% right. And I keep the options open to maybe go back to exhibition shoes at least 250, hopefully, 500 and 1000 if things really go super well. And Grand Slams if, you know, magic happens.

As time went on, I felt less and less of a chance as the knee was creating problems for me as I struggled to get over it. That’s when I finally said: Look, it’s okay, I’ll take it. Because I made everything clear. Nothing more to prove.

You’ve rarely shown it, but what percentage of your matches have you played over the years in some sort of pain? I think we all play sick and injured. I’ve always had the impression that I can play with some pain, a lot of pain, as we all have to. But I think my body always felt really good. I knew when to push and when to be careful. And I was always of the opinion that I could rest at some point: give myself an extra week, an extra day, an extra hour, an extra month, whatever it is, and take it easy, go back to training and then come back strong again. So I tried to avoid any kind of injections and operations for a long time, until I had to have surgery in 2016.

I know you were joking with your teammates in London about your lack of mobility, but are you confident now, after playing doubles, that your body will allow you to play exhibition tennis? I have to go back to the drawing board now and see, after this amazing weekend, what should I do next.

I think it would be lovely to somehow have a farewell exhibition game, you know, and thank the fans, because obviously the Laver Cup was already sold out before I knew about retirement. A lot of people would love to get more tickets and didn’t, so I think it would be nice to have one more farewell screenings or more, but I’m not sure if I can or should do that right now. But obviously I would love to play at exhibitions further down the road, take tennis to new places or take it back to places where I had a lot of fun.

Now that you step back, do you see anyone out there who plays similarly? Not now. Obviously, it would have to be a guy with a one-handed backhand. Nobody needs to play like me, by the way. People also thought I was going to play Pete Sampras, and I didn’t. I think everyone needs to be their own version of themselves. And not a copycat, although copying is the greatest sign of praise. But I wish you all meet, and tennis will be great. I’m sure I will always be the number 1 fan of the game. And I will follow, sometimes in the stands, sometimes on TV, but of course, I hope for a lot of one-hands, a lot of attacking tennis, a lot of talent. But I’m going to sit back and relax and watch the game from a different angle.

Meanwhile, your rivals keep playing. You said it was important to retire first as you are the oldest. Were you worried that Rafa would beat him this spring when he was thinking about retiring because of his foot problems? I was scared of Murray, too. I vividly remember when I saw him in the locker room in Australia in 2019 after his match against Bautista [Roberto Bautista Agut]. I remember he said, “Maybe I’m done.” We were asked to make farewell videos; I had a chance to get to him, and I asked, “Are you done, really?” And I remember him saying, “Well, with that hip, I can’t play anymore.” So he knew he was at a huge crossroads in his life. But yeah, I’m glad I can go first, because I must go first, too. So that’s why I feel good. I hope everyone can play as long as possible and squeeze that lemon. I really wish them the best.

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