When the end came neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal could hold back the tears.
Perhaps it was the music that stirred the emotions, with British singer Ellie Goulding leading to a memorable night in London, or perhaps it was the memories, and there are many shared between these tennis greats, that surfaced.
As Nadal sat alongside his great friend and rival at the O2 Arena on Friday night, the pair wept. The fans chanted Federer’s name, the pair embraced and Federer received a final standing ovation. There was no doubt that this was it, in the last professional game of the great Swiss.
“It has been a great honor for me to participate in this amazing moment in the history of our sport, and at the same time to share many things together for many years,” the Spaniard said of Federer, according to Reuters, afterwards. the pair lost their Laver Cup doubles match against the American pair of Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.
“When Roger leaves the tour, yes, an important part of my life is also leaving, all the moments that he has been by my side or in front of me in important moments of my life. So it was emotional to see the family, to see all the people. Yes, hard to describe. But, yes, an amazing moment.”
Federer and Nadal played 40 times in one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, with the most memorable match being the thrilling 2008 Wimbledon final where Nadal won in the last set. It is still regarded as one of the greatest tennis matches of all time.
Between them, they have combined 42 grand slams (Federer 20, Nadal 22).
Despite their on-court battles, the pair remain friends, with Federer choosing Nadal to be his swansong partner. The collaboration was affectionately dubbed “Fedal” by fans.
“I think the personal relationship is getting better every year, every day,” Nadal, 36, told reporters. “I think we kind of understand that we have a lot of similar things at the end. We probably approach life similarly.
“We have completely opposite styles on the court, and that’s probably what makes our games and our rivalry one of the biggest and most interesting.
“Very proud to be part of his career, in a way. But even happier to end our careers as friends after everything we shared on the court as rivals.”
Federer, a former world number one and a player who will be remembered as one of the greatest champions of any sport, describes his 25-year professional career as “the perfect journey”.
“For me it seems like a celebration. That’s what I wanted to feel at the end and it’s what I expected, so thank you”, he said in an emotional speech on the court.
“It was a perfect trip and I would do it again.”
Federer, 41, also thanked his wife, Mirka, for her support.
“Everyone here, boys and girls. My wife has been very supportive. He could have stopped it a long, long time ago but he didn’t,” said Federer.
“He just kept me going and let me play, so it’s amazing. Thank you.”