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Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal: A celebrated rivalry ends with a partnership

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Bengaluru, September 24: Roger Federer teamed up with long-time rival Rafael Nadal to bid adieu with one last contest before he heads into retirement at age 41 after a superlative career that spanned nearly a quarter-century and included 20 Grand Slam titles and a statesman's role.

He wrapped up his days as a professional player with a 6-4, 6-7 (2-7) 9-11 doubles loss alongside Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World.

The result did not matter as the occasion was, after all, about the farewell. Or, better, the farewells, plural: Federer's to tennis, to the fans, to his competitors and colleagues. And, naturally, each of those entities' farewells to Federer.

Laver Cup: No fairytale ending for Federer Laver Cup: No fairytale ending for Federer

It's been a perfect journey," Federer said. "I would do it all over again."

When the match and, with it, his time in professional tennis, ended, Federer hugged Nadal, then Tiafoe and Sock. And then Federer began crying. There were plenty of tears to go around; Nadal wiped his own away, too.

Roger Federer got his timing right: Gaurav NatekarRoger Federer got his timing right: Gaurav Natekar

As cascades of clapping and yells of affection came from the stands, Federer put his hands on his hips, his chest heaving. Then he mouthed, "Thank you," while applauding right back toward the spectators who had chanted, "Let's go, Roger! Let's go!" during the concluding moments of a match that lasted more than two hours.

His wife, Mirka, their four children - twin girls and twin boys - and Federer's parents joined him on the court afterward for embraces and, yes, more bawling. Members of both teams joined together to hoist Federer up in the air.

"It's been a wonderful day. I told the guys I'm happy; I'm not sad," Federer said. "I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time. Everything was the last time."

Rafa vs Roger

Rafa vs Roger

Over the years, Federer and Nadal showed off individual greatness and compelling contrasts across their 40 matches -- 14 at Grand Slam tournaments, nine in major finals: righty vs lefty, attacker vs grinder, seeming effortlessness vs relentless intensity.

And yet, there was an unmistakable element of poetry with these two men who challenged each other and elevated each other performing as partners, slapping palms and sharing smiles.

Last hurrah

Last hurrah

The last hurrah came after a total of 103 career singles trophies and 1,251 wins in singles matches for Federer, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era, which began in 1968.

At the height of his powers, Federer appeared in a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals, winning eight, from 2005-07. Extend that to 2010, and he reached 18 of 19 major finals.

Beyond the baseline

Beyond the baseline

More than those numbers, tennis fans will remember the powerful forehand, the one-handed backhand, the flawless footwork, the spectacularly effective serve and eagerness to get to the net, the willingness to reinvent aspects of his game and - the part of which he is proudest - the unusual longevity.

Beyond the elegance and effectiveness while wielding a racket, Federer's persona made him an ambassador for tennis, someone whose immense popularity helped attract fans.

Adios Roger

Adios Roger

Federer's farewell follows that of Serena Williams, the owner of 23 major singles championships, at the US Open three weeks ago after a third-round loss.

It leaves questions about the future of a game he and she dominated, and transcended, for decades. But for now, it is time to salute a true champion. Adios Roger!

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Story first published: Saturday, September 24, 2022, 10:30 [IST]
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