After spending so many of their best years battling on the biggest stages as they took their sport to unforeseen levels, Roger Federer will be hoping he will play the final match of his illustrious doubles career alongside Rafael Nadal, his former rival. “Of course. Without a doubt,” Federer said after being asked on Wednesday if he would like a partnership with Nadal.
“For us to go through a career that we both had and come out the other side and be able to have a great relationship is maybe a great message not just for tennis but also for sport and maybe even beyond.”
After announcing last week that he would be retiring from the Laver Cup in London, Federer said he could only compete in doubles due to limitations in his surgically repaired knee.
He will play one match on Friday, the opening day of the competition, and then he will be done after more than 1,500 matches and 20 Grand Slam titles since his debut in 1998.
“I was in a very worried and scared place to face the music, the media, the fans and everything,” Federer said. “Being able to talk about it in a normal way without getting emotional, just because I know how much it means to me.”
No retirement is easy, but the final stages for Federer were particularly complicated. His last singles match would come in a brutal loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, his knee giving way as he lost the third set 6-0.
Federer underwent surgery in August and began rehab with the aim of returning to full competition, only for further complications to arise.
“You’re starting to get too pessimistic. Then I also received a scan which was not what I wanted it to be. At one point you sit down and say, ‘OK, here we are at an intersection, at a crossroads, and you have to turn. What way?’ I was not prepared to go in the direction of: “let’s risk it all”. I’m not ready for this.
For so long he was known and admired for how he managed to avoid serious injury. He said he always thought he would end his career without having surgery, but he has had to accept three knee surgeries since 2020. He says he does not suffer while playing, but the last few years left mental scars that helped guide him into retirement.
Although he thought about announcing his retirement before the US Open, Federer decided he wanted to be there and end on a high note. The Laver Cup, the event owned by his management company, Team8, was a fitting venue. It’s at the O of London2 Arena, where he won two of his ATP Finals titles, and it was in the city that defined his career after winning his maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003 and a men’s record eight Wimbledon titles.
“Having all the other guys around felt like I wasn’t going to be the only one announcing my retirement,” he said. “It’s not that I wanted to hijack this event or anything, but I’m always sorry for players who sometimes retire on the tour, say, ‘I’m going to play one more game’ and then at a point, you lose and you’re left there all alone.”
In his last test, this will not be the case. “Here I’m trying to prepare for one last double, and we’ll see who it is with,” he said. “I’m nervous because I haven’t played for so long. I hope I can be a bit competitive.