Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: Behind the ‘raw’ photo that captures their enduring friendship


It was a moment – as short as half a second – that captured the intensity of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal’s relationship and rivalry.

Standing courtside, camera at the ready, photographer Ella Ling expected Federer’s farewell from tennis to be full of emotion, though when the moment came, she caught the tears and adulation by surprise.

In front of him in London’s O2 Arena were Federer and Nadal — the Swiss star’s long-time friend and rival — sitting holding hands, sobbing uncontrollably.

As the scene unfolded after Federer’s final match, Ling started clicking away on his camera and hoped for the best.

“It wasn’t until I went back to my computer and downloaded everything that I found that shot and thought, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to share with everyone,'” Ling, who follows the men’s and women’s tennis tours. the world, he told CNN Sport.

The image in question – a shot of Federer’s hand over Nadal’s as Ellie Goulding performs “Still Falling For You” at the Laver Cup – has garnered widespread attention, capturing a scene Ling has never seen on a tennis court.

“I wanted to capture an image that really summed up the feeling of the night, but also a moment in history [Federer] he is finally playing his last game and has retired”, he added.

“I would love to have an iconic photo, but I never imagined I would actually get one.”

The Laver Cup was an opportunity to honor Federer’s brilliant tennis career, even if the results did not go in his favor.

Playing alongside Nadal, he lost a doubles match against Americans Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe on the first day of the tournament, and was out for the next two days as Team Europe fell 13-8 to Team World.

But the images that will probably come to define Federer’s swan song are of him and Nadal – rivals of more than 15 years with 42 grand slam titles between them – struggling to keep their emotions in check.

“Away from the court, I think they (Federer and Nadal) share very, very similar values ​​and morals,” says Ling.

“They value family a lot, they value respect. Both are very, very stylish. They always win sports awards and such. I think that’s where they bonded.

“But at the same time, I don’t think any of us really understood how close they were. I didn’t realize it until this moment and throughout the evening (when) you can see how close they were.”

Federer (left) and Nadal watch a video montage after their Laver Cup doubles match.

During their rivalry, Federer and Nadal played 40 times, including nine grand slam finals, six of which were won by Nadal. After so much fighting on the court, seeing both players reduced to tears was a sight to behold, according to Ling.

“You have these two masculine men — they’re male athletes who … would try not to show any emotion on the court, and you’d rarely see much emotion off the court either,” he says.

“To be sitting there in the moment, crying uncontrollably, holding hands in front of 17,000 people there – and millions more on TV – and being so clean, so raw, so open is incredible.

“I think this will also do society a lot of good to see that.”

For his part, Federer said his moment with Nadal was “thankfully a secret” and that he hopes to get some photos of the Laver Cup.

“I think all the guys – Andy [Murray]Novak [Djokovic] and even Rafa, he watched their careers flash before his eyes, knowing somehow that we’ve all been on loan long enough already,” Federer told The New York Times.

“As you get older, you get into your 30s, you start to know what you really appreciate in life but also from sports.”

“You almost forget you’re still taking pictures … obviously because I couldn’t talk and the music was there, I think I just touched it,” Federer added.

Federer greets the crowd at the Laver Cup in London.

Ling says he was well positioned to photograph Federer and Nadal, away from the TV cameras that shielded other photographers from taking their picture. He hopes to be remembered as one of the most iconic photos of tennis, and the sport in general.

“That’s the beauty of photography,” Ling says, “you capture these moments and they last forever.”