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Tennis star Federer bids farewell in last match before retirement

41-year-old tennis star had an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a role as a statesman for tennis

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Tennis star Federer bids farewell in last match before retirement
GNN Media: Representational Photo

This day, this match, had to come, of course, for Roger Federer, and for tennis, just as it inevitably must for every athlete in every sport.

Federer was bidding farewell Friday night with one last contest before he heads into retirement at age 41 after an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a role as a statesman for tennis. He was playing a doubles match alongside his rival Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World.

“For me, just personally, (it was) sad in the first moment, when I came to the conclusion it’s the best decision,” Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week about his emotions when realizing it was time to go. “I kind of held it in at first, then fought it off. But I could feel the pain.”

When the players from both squads were introduced before the afternoon and evening sessions on Day 1 of the three-day team event at the O2 Arena, Federer was the last to emerge from a tunnel leading out to the black court, wearing his team’s blue zip-up jacket and black pants.

Fans who were loud enough for Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and others really let Federer hear their support and gratitude, rising for lengthy standing ovations just before his entrances while lifting their phone cameras to capture the moment. 
 
A couple of hours before he was to play, Federer tweeted: “I’ve done this thousands of times, but this one feels different. Thank you to everybody who’s coming tonight.”

When there were breaks in the action during the matches before his, Federer wandered over to the stands and signed autograph after autograph — on programs, tennis balls, whatever was thrust his way by spectators.

“The crowd was electric,” Sock said after losing the opening singles match Friday afternoon to two-time 2022 Grand Slam runner-up Casper Ruud 6-4, 5-7, 10-7. “I can only imagine what it’s going to be like for the rest of the weekend. And obviously tonight with ... two of the ‘GOATs’ playing together.”

The second match was briefly interrupted when an environmental protester made it on to the court and lit a portion of the playing surface and his arm on fire before being carried away by security guards. 
 
“I never had an incident like this happen on court,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 to put Team Europe ahead 2-0.

Just before Ruud vs. Sock began, Federer rose from a black couch just off the sideline and walked over to offer Ruud a pat on the shoulder. During the night session’s singles match, in which Alex de Minaur edged Murray 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 to cut Team World’s deficit to 2-1, both Federer and 22-time major champion Nadal offered coaching advice.

Due to begin playing shortly after the end of Murray’s loss, Federer and Nadal watched part of it on TV together in a room at the arena, waiting for their turn.

Those lucky enough to have tickets came from all over, no distance too far to travel, no expense too great.

“I have such mixed feelings about this,” said Indrani Maitra, a 49-year-old from India. “I’m really glad I’m being able to catch his last match. But I’m really sad this is his last match.” 
 
She came with her daughter, Anushka Verma, a 19-year-old student at University of California, Berkeley, for what they said was their first time to watch tennis live. Both wore blue hats for the occasion, Maitra’s with Federer’s “RF” insignia, Verma’s with Nadal’s bull horns logo.

There were lines hundreds of people deep at the “Game, Set, Merch” shops in and outside the venue. Jacob Benaion, a 61-year-old from Brazil, said he waited for more than an hour with his son, 32-year-old Moyses.

“I love tennis. My first favorite was Ivan Lendl. After that, Pete Sampras. And after that, Roger Federer. And Roger Federer is the best one of all,” Benaion said. “He is a legend and he helped tennis grow around the world. He is an ambassador of tennis.”

This goodbye follows that of Serena Williams, the owner of 23 major singles championships, at the U.S. 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.

SOURCE: AP NEWS

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