When the end came neither Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal could hold back the tears.
Perhaps it was the music that stirred the emotions, with British singer Ellie Goulding bringing a memorable night in London to a conclusion, or maybe it was the memories, and there are plenty of those shared between these tennis greats, being brought to the fore.
As Nadal sat alongside his friend and great rival at the O2 Arena on Friday night, the pair cried. Fans chanted Federer’s name, the pair hugged and Federer received one last standing ovation. There was no doubt that this was it, the Swiss great’s final professional match.
“For me, has been huge honor to be a part of this amazing moment of the history of our sport, and at the same time a lot of years sharing a lot of things together,” the Spaniard said of Federer, per Reuters, after the pair lost their Laver Cup doubles match to American pair Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.
“When Roger leaves the tour, yeah, an important part of my life is leaving too because all the moments he has been next or in front me in important moments of my life. So has been emotional (to) see the family, see all the people. Yeah, difficult to describe. But, yeah, amazing moment.”
Federer and Nadal played each other 40 times in one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, with the most memorable match being the thrilling 2008 Wimbledon final which Nadal won in the final set. It is still regarded as one of the greatest tennis matches of all time.
Between them, they have amassed 42 grand slams (Federer 20, Nadal 22).
Despite the on-court battles, however, the pair remain friends, with Federer choosing Nadal to be his doubles partner during his swansong. The partnership was affectionately called ‘Fedal’ by fans.
“I think every year the personal relationship gets better and better, on a daily basis,” the 36-year-old Nadal told reporters. “I think in some way we understand at the end we have a lot of things similar. We approach the life probably similar.
“On court we have completely opposite styles, and that’s what probably makes our matches and our rivalry probably one of the biggest and most interesting.
“Very proud to be part of his career in some way. But even happier to finish our career like friends after everything we shared on court like rivals.”
Federer, a former world number one and a player who will be remembered as one of the greatest champions of any sport, described his 25-year professional career as a “perfect journey.”
“It does feel like a celebration to me. I wanted to feel like this at the end and it is exactly what I hoped for so thank you,” he said during an emotional on-court speech.
“It has been a perfect journey and I would do it all over again.”
Federer, 41, also thanked his wife, Mirka, for her support.
“Everyone’s here, the boys and girls. My wife has been so supportive. She could have stopped me a long, long time ago but she didn’t,” said Federer.
“She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing. Thank you.”