Roger Federer hints at pairing up with old rival Nadal for his final match before retirement
O2 ARENA — Given this tournament is his brainchild, and also his final event, Roger Federer is essentially in charge of proceedings at the Laver Cup.
He is, however, playing along for now, leaving fans on tenterhooks over the prospect of his “Last Dance” being side by side with old rival Rafael Nadal on Friday night.
Laver Cup rules stipulate that each player must play at least one singles match over the course of the first two days, but Federer will not be doing that. He’s the boss, after all, and has confirmed he is only fit for one doubles match as part of Bjorn Borg’s Team Europe before calling time on his career.
“Of course this is an ATP event that I don’t want to mess with, but at the same time, I know my limitations,” said Federer, who is retiring after several knee surgeries made a full-blown comeback impossible.
“This is why I asked Bjorn if it was okay if I play maybe just one doubles, and I guess that one would have to be on Friday night. Then I guess Matteo [Berrettini] would come in for me and have to play on Saturday for me.
“Bjorn said obviously, ‘Of course, that’s totally fine’. Everybody said that was fine. So here I am trying to prepare for one last doubles, and we’ll see with who it is. I’m nervous going in because I haven’t played in so long. I hope I can be somewhat competitive.”
It is difficult to envisage Federer playing doubles with anyone but Nadal. Their rivalry is the stuff of legend, spanning 40 matches from 2004 to 2019, peaking with their classic Wimbledon final encounter in 2008, and featuring in the latter stages of grand slams until the very end.
Nadal leads the head-to-head 24-16, their final match will go down as a Wimbledon semi-final won by Federer in 2019, but through all this a friendship was maintained, making this pairing the box-office choice even with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray also present in London.
And when asked if playing doubles with Nadal appealed to him, Federer replied: “Of course. No doubt. I think it could be quite a unique situation if it were to happen.
“For as long as we battled together, we always had this respect for one another, the families, our coaching teams, we always got along really well. For us as well to go through a career that we both have had and to come out on the other side and be able to have a nice relationship, I think it is maybe a great message not just for tennis but sports and maybe even beyond.
“For that reason I think it would be great. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen, but I think it could be obviously a special moment.”
In a week filled with lasts for Federer, his final pre-tournament press conference was never going to be a moment that tugged at the 41-year-old’s heartstrings.
Nevertheless, it gave him an opportunity to elaborate a little more on his retirement decision that both sent shockwaves around tennis world but came as no real surprise.
His career, spanning four decades, had to end at some point, and so it just so happens to be London – the city where he won eight Wimbledon titles – that will stage his farewell event, even though he had held hopes of returning in 2023.
“There was a certain process that started at the beginning of the summer, where you try to go to the next level in training, and I could feel it was getting difficult. So obviously I knew any hiccup was going to be the one potentially,” he added.
“I was also getting more tired because you have to put in more effort into it to be able to sort of believe that it was going to turnaround. You start getting too pessimistic. Then I also got a scan back which wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
“At some point you sit down and go, ‘Okay, we are at an intersection here, and you have to take a turn. Which way is it? I was not willing to go into the direction of let’s risk it all. I’m not ready for that. I always said that was never my goal.
“Of course you’re sad in the very moment when you realise, okay, this is the end. I sort of ignored it for a little bit, because I went on vacation and just said, ‘Okay, this is it’.
“This moment came shortly after I was at Wimbledon where I still truly actually believed there was going to be a chance for me to come back the next year. At what capacity, I didn’t know, but I thought it might be possible. Then on vacation, funnily enough, I didn’t speak to anybody about it other than my team, my parents, Mirka. We knew. Other than that, nobody really knew, and it was perfect like this.”
Federer would go on to publish his retirement note on social media, sparking a flurry of tributes, and while more will be in the offing this weekend, fans of the Swiss can rest assured that he will not disappear entirely.
“I want to let the fans know I won’t be a ghost,” he said. “I talked about Bjorn Borg, I don’t think he returned to Wimbledon for 25 years. That, in a way, hurts every tennis fan. Totally acceptable, his life, his reasons, you know, but I don’t think I’ll be that guy, and I feel tennis has given me too much.
“I have been around the game for too long, have fallen in love with too many things. I love seeing people again, and that’s kind of what I wanted to let the fans know that you’ll see me again. Not just never again. Now what it could be, in what capacity, I don’t know. So I still have to think about it a little bit but give myself time.”