With Serena Williams’ recently retirement following the US Open, the tennis world waved farewell to the Greatest of All Time (GOAT). Less than a month later, Roger Federer announced that he would be bidding farewell to tennis. There are arguments about Federer’s status as the GOAT, a never-ending debate among him, Djokovic, and Nadal, but there is no doubt that he is one of the GOATs. Perhaps more importantly, Federer has been the game’s greatest ambassador of all time, and even the biggest fans of Nadal and Djokovic would not argue with that distinction.
When Federer made his retirement announcement, even he did not know if he had already played his last match, a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon in 2021. But much to Federer’s surprise, his body had been handling his training sessions pretty well. Federer decided to play one last match: doubles alongside none other than Rafael Nadal. It was the 1,750th and final match of his career, and Federer put the icing on the cake of perhaps one of his greatest achievements: the man has never retired from a competitive match in his entire career. Although Federer and Nadal ended up losing – after having held a match point – Federer exited the court with his head held high. Then, the waterworks started.
Before the tournament, Federer was not sure if his body would cooperate with his desire to play one last match alongside Nadal. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I think it could be obviously a special moment,” he said. “For us to go through a career that we both have had and to come out on the other side being able to have a nice relationship, I think is maybe a great message as well, not to just tennis, but sports, and maybe even beyond”. He was exactly right. Following the match, the score immediately became completely irrelevant. As Federer hugged his teammates, the tears started to flow. He hugged his opponents as well, and then went back to the court for an extended standing ovation. As Federer watched a tribute video prepared for the occasion, there were very few dry eyes left in the house.
Nadal later admitted to being so nervous because of the occasion that his hands were shaking. When he went to serve, he opened with a double fault. For Nadal, “[It had] been a difficult day to handle every single thing, and at the end, everything become super emotional. When Roger leaves the tour, an important part of my life is leaving too, because all the moments that he has been next to or in front of me are important moments of my life”. What a rival. From Federer’s perspective, it was bittersweet. “It’s been a wonderful day”, he said through tears during his on-court interview.
“I told the guys I’m happy; I’m not sad. It feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time—everything was the last time. Funny enough, with all the matches and having the guys being here, and fans, family, friends, I didn’t feel the stress so much, even though I did think something was gonna go—pop a calf or block a back, or something in the match. I’m so happy I made it through, and the match was great, I couldn’t be happier. So it’s been wonderful. And of course, playing with Rafa on the same team, and having the guys, everybody here, all the legends, Rocket, Edberg, Stefan, thank you.”
Thank you, Roger.