History will not remember the outcome of the 1,750e and Roger Federer’s last professional game, but the images won’t fade any time soon. Starting with those long minutes when, after the stroke of midnight struck by Big Ben on Friday, September 23, we saw the Swiss share endless sobs with Rafael Nadal, seated at his side.
After a quarter of a century on the circuit, the master of ceremonies had imagined the ideal casting as a grand finale, in London: to play a final double with the Spaniard, eighteen years after the first of their 40 face-to-face matches. Face. Pour the decor? “His” Laver Cup, the exhibition he presented in 2017 on the model of the Ryder Cup in golf, where, for three days, the best European players challenge not only Americans, but “the rest of the world”.
Like Björn Borg and John McEnroe, the two captains of the competition, the stylistic contrast between right-handed and left-handed remains engraved in the history of the game. Elegance, “innate” talent (at least in appearance) and blood -cold have worked for Federer. The show of force while biceps, the tireless work and the nerves of a warrior for Nadal.
Two rivals who have become ” friends “ who end up teammates, the conclusion was perfect and the marketing coup too. Two days, the bromance was skillfully staged, the two players multiplied the sweet words and the knowing smiles in front of the objectives and the cameras. “He will be the boss on Friday”had warned Switzerland the day before. “One of the players, if not THE most important player in my career”, the Majorcan flattered him in return. Saturday at dawn, the eyes of the youngest (36 years old) were still red: “Being part of this historic moment for our sport has been difficult to manage and full of emotions. Roger leaving the circuit, it’s a big part of my life that evaporates. »
On the evening of his jubilee, Roger Federer no longer had the legs to play a singles match, but at 41, the icon showed that he still had a little magic in his racquet. Like this surgical forehand whose ball goes through a mouse hole by piercing the end of the net band.
There’s a first for everything 👀 #LaverCup | @rogerfederer https://t.co/ToNEwy0lId
“I am happy, not sad, thank you”
Whatever their loss to the American pair Jack Sock-Frances Tiafoe, the main thing on Friday was elsewhere. “It was a wonderful trip, if I had to do it again, I would do everything exactly the same way, I’m happy, not sad, thank you”, managed to articulate the hero of the evening between two hiccups, in front of his entire united clan, a few glorious elders (Rod Laver, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier…), his main rivals and 17,500 fans in an O2 Arena won by a tear effusion collective.
Providence’s facetiousness which sees the big story collide with the little story. On Monday, the United Kingdom buried its queen; On Friday, the world of tennis said goodbye to its king.
Farewells that Roger Federer did not want to take on the appearance of a “burial”. The former world No. 1 had on the contrary imagined them as a moment ” festive “, not really asked in the strictest privacy. It happened to“having Björn Borg on the bench, with all the guys next to it. I always feel sad watching players retire, 90% of the time you lose and you’re on your own.” they said Wednesday at a press conference.
Thursday afternoon, the time of a training, the public has cut the impression of having jumped into a time machine when appeared on the court the members of the “Big 4”, nickname appeared at the end of the years 2000 to qualify their gluttony. On one side of the net, Federer and Nadal, on the other the Serbian Novak Djokovic and the Briton Andy Murray, 66 Grand Slam titles between them. Even if the 3,000 British schoolchildren invited only shouted for “Roger, Roger, Roger”.
A memory of the idol
At the official Laver Cup store, at the entrance to the stadium, the queue was always full on Friday to bring back at all costs – literally – a souvenir of the idol. “People are ready to shell out a lot of money, we had a fan who bought 40 caps, says Kula, one of the supervisors. It’s quite surreal, but at the same time it’s very exciting to say that we are part of this historic moment. »
Three bundles under his arm and a navy blue cap with the “RF” logo on his head, Riku Takagi comes out of the shop relieved of 350 pounds sterling (about 390 euros), but with plenty of t-shirts, towels and another sweatshirt. The 21-year-old Japanese boy, a fan of “Rodgeur” since he was 10, arrived specially in Tokyo the day before. In May, he paid 2,500 euros to buy tickets for the three days. “These are memories that will live on forever,” he justifies.
On the forecourt, the same morning, the fan-zone was largely invested in spite of a chagrin weather, in tune with the mood of the day among the supporters of the first hour. Miss the last appearance of the “master”? The idea was unthinkable for Gabriela Butler, Ittenthal room (Switzerland), red and white sweatshirt and matching “RF” earrings. At his side, Renée Vorpel and Tani Christians, respectively from Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium), each more than a hundred matches as spectators on the clock.
These three self-proclaimed “fans4roger” members “official fan club” of Switzerland, say to themselves “numbed” since they learned of their champion’s decision. “We expected it given his age but it’s still a shock; last night, when we met, we cried all evening, “ Tani says. “He was both classy on and off the court, spontaneous, full of humor”, remembers Gabriela. “When you meet him, he gives you the impression that you sincerely matter to him”, adds Renée, who was hoping for a last dance at Wimbledon.
Exit through the front door
The main interested party would also have dreamed of an exit through the front door, a last appearance on “his” blessed lawn, where he triumphed eight times. Or else a farewell at home in Basel, his hometown (a tournament he won ten times, the 103e and last title of his career).
For a long time he believed that he would be capable of an ultimate “comeback”. At Wimbledon in early July, impeccable suit and tie brushing, the Swiss received the loudest ovation among the roster of legends who came to celebrate the centenary of the Center Court. “I said on the pitch that I hope to come back one more time and I was sincere, he said this week. But ten days later, the knee was still at the same stage, I saw no further progress. » A scanner passed soon after rang the glass. “There, I said to myself: OK, I understood. This time it’s over. »
On Friday, a page in the history of tennis was turned. But the young retiree has already made an appointment with his fans, whether at the next exhibition tournaments or as a distinguished guest at the Grand Slam. He made the promise: “I wouldn’t be a ghost like Björn Borg. »