Laver Cup – Federer, this last match which is not really one

This Friday, September 23, 2022 is a relatively important date for world tennis. Tonight, Stan Wawrinka will try to win, at the Arènes de Metz, his first semi-final on the main circuit for more than two and a half years, after having survived in the meantime a double operation on his left foot, a pandemic, at the weight of years and a quarter-final against former world number 1 Daniil Medvedev.

At 37, it’s admirable, frankly. But let’s be lucid: except at the local level, this will pass a little under silence. Because the real tennis event of the evening, everyone knows it, everyone has noted it: it will be Roger Federer’s last dance, in London, as part of a double disputed alongside Rafael Nadal to close the first day of the Laver Cup. Card insured. The O2 Arena is already heating up, newsrooms are wriggling and social networks are exploding. Prepare the kleenex.

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Yet, come to think of it, it’s just goodbye. Especially not a farewell. A “simple” goodbye that we have already said, without really knowing it. Because basically, the Swiss legend has been retired since July 7, 2021, the date of his defeat in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon against Hubert Hurkacz. Since then, despite all his efforts and despite all his desire to return, he has never been able to restore his (and even his) fichu(s) meniscus(s), worn by so many efforts, worn by so many feats, despite the airy lightness of their owner. Roger Federer didn’t want to leave the stage without a proper “der”. We understand it.

Now, even if it means saying goodbye, you might as well combine business with pleasure. Federer chose “his” Laver Cup, an event he created in 2017 with his management agency Team 8, to greet his audience one last time. A tremendous marketing coup already relayed in mondovision for days and days. Probably never before had the Laver Cup been talked about so much around the world. Never, on the other hand, have the purely sporting stakes been so much in the background.

The sore question: Does Federer’s retirement put an end to the golden age of tennis?

The sporting issue? Good question. Let’s be honest: there really isn’t. Very smart who could say what the double will look like tonight between the two GOATs and their formidable American opponents (Jack Sock / Frances Tiafoe, as a reminder). Will it play seriously from start to finish? Will it turn into a jubilee? One thing is certain: there will be emotion and outpourings of feelings at the end. Lots of tears, sure. But pendant? No idea.

The only thing we can say is that this huge story-telling around the Maestro’s last match brings the event back to its exhibition status. For some rather obscure reason, the simple pronunciation of this term, however quite noble, had almost become an insult in the eyes of the worshipers of the Laver Cup. As if it were an insult addressed to its main ambassador, Roger Federer.

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It is true that it is sometimes difficult to define what really separates an exhibition from an official competition. But there, what happened in the last few days seems to have established a fairly clear limit. Each participant in the Laver Cup being normally required to play at least one single during the weekend, Federer had to request an exemption from the organizers – therefore from himself – and from his opponents to be able to play only a double. Derogation which was obviously granted to him on the spot, it is logical and it is happy for his millions of fans. But a waiver that probably wouldn’t have been issued to him so easily, if at all, in a high-stakes event.

In the same way, seeing Rafael Nadal arrive in London at the last moment to support his old friend, and eternal rival, in this important moment of his life, also says what it means. At the Grand Slam, champions of his caliber usually arrive on site a week in advance. There, it is an understatement to say that the Spaniard will not be at the top of his preparation. But who cares ? The important thing is elsewhere. The important thing tonight is to be there.

An evidence: exhibitions, Federer will make others

Yes, the Laver Cup is reduced this weekend to its exhibition status, which is not a pejorative thing. In this case, it is an incredible exhibition, which will drain millions of audience and which, in this sense, can only be good advertising for tennis. One can absolutely find the event formidable, generator of crazy images – its trademark from the start – and powerful symbols, magnificently thought out from the rest on the organizational level, and consider despite everything that it is about ‘an exhibition.

It’s not definitive either. If, tomorrow, the ATP came to give points to the Laver Cup, chose which is never easy in team competitions – the Davis Cup learned it the hard way – that would change everything, of course. But it would also change the behavior of the participants. Fewer smiles on the court. Less complicity between matches, including between opponents. Simply more ferocity. Would Roger Federer have wanted to lower the curtain in such a context?

In order not to live this September 23, 2022 too sadly, designated-therefore that the Basel has been retired for more than a year, already. And that he’s just going to give a recital tonight. One more. And certainly not the last. Federer said it in a press conference in London: after the end of his career, he will not be a ghost. By this we mean that he will always be present in the area, never very far from the world of tennis.

We do not yet know at what rate, but it seems obvious: exhibitions, Roger Federer will do others in the future, as he has already played a lot during his activity and as he himself has regularly organized for the benefit of its foundation. Each time, it will be a full box.

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So let’s enjoy his “last dance” tonight without worrying too much about the outcome, which won’t affect the course of tennis history anyway. Contrary, all things considered, to the quarter-final in Metz of his compatriot Stan Wawrinka (against Mikael Ymer), which could allow him to make a big leap in the standings and therefore to consider the continuation and the end of his career. In a way, the “real” show will be in London tonight, and the “real” tennis in Metz. Perhaps it would be best to look at one without completely obscuring the other.

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