Roger Federer prepares for ‘last dance’ with Rafael Nadal at Laver Cup


Roger Federer prepares for the final dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup - SHUTTERSTOCK

Roger Federer prepares for the final dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup – SHUTTERSTOCK

The stage is set, props ready, for the final act of Roger Federer’s extravaganza on Friday night. Andy Murray spoke out for the entirety of tennis when he said “I think it’s going to be emotional.”

With more than 15,000 fans gathering at the O2 Arena on Thursday to watch Federer practice, this week’s Laver Cup has been upgraded from a fringe event to cult status.

Indeed, one wonders which match in London will attract more global attention this year: the Wimbledon final or Federer’s pair farewell, which has now been confirmed among its members.

Nadal Federer is scheduled to participate as expected, while the American duo Francis Tiafoe and Jack Sock are his opponents. When asked about the challenge on Thursday, Tiafoe quipped, “I’m excited to play two of the up-and-coming players.”

Roger Federer prepares for the last dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup - AFP

Roger Federer prepares for the last dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup – AFP

Even Nadal appeared nervous, having traveled as late as possible due to the sensitive condition of his heavily pregnant wife, Maria Francesca Perello.

“It will be difficult to deal with everything, especially for Roger without a doubt. Me too. One of the most important players, if not the most important player in my tennis career, is to leave, right?” Nadal said.

Among the global team members — eager not to be represented as Friday’s piece villains — one phrase keeps coming up. When they find themselves instinctively referring to Federer’s “last dance,” they are echoing Michael Jordan’s march to the 1998 NBA Championship, which he inherited a successful Netflix documentary under the same name.

The comparison – like everything else this weekend – is bittersweet. While it accurately reflects Federer’s standing among the ultimate sporting pantheon (Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Usain Bolt, you know), it also draws attention to a major weakness this coming weekend. The inescapable truth is that there is nothing important to play for.

Roger Federer prepares for the last dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup - AFP

Roger Federer prepares for the last dance with Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup – AFP

In a perfect world, Federer would have loved to go out to fight for his sporting life in a major tournament – just as Serena Williams did when she saved five match points in a turbulent finish against Alja Tomljanovic at the last US Open. Instead, he’s pushing his wrecking knee through what’s effectively a doubles fair.

However, Federer’s long farewell at least provided the fifth edition of the Laver Cup with a goal he had been lacking so far. And the low-risk environment of the O2 Arena provides the perfect setting for the 41-year-old whose body has finally collapsed. The fact that Federer founded the event himself, in 2017, suggests he could add “Vision of the Future” to his long list of accomplishments.

Behind the scenes, the Laver Cup social media team celebrates with the presence of the so-called Big Four, who are uniting on the European team for the first time. Even before the tournament started, we’d already seen them share the field for a doubles knockout, pile into the Tower of London for an elegant private dinner, and discuss local architecture on a stroll along the South Bank.

“What happened to him?” asks Murray in one short video, looking at the pointed tip of The Shard. That’s it. Federer replies: It’s like broken glass. Even now that these millionaires are in their mid-thirties, he still feels like my dad. As if to underscore the point, Novak Djokovic, the eternal younger brother, is gleefully exiting. From the sidelines: “Andy, he’s giving you lessons about London!”

Murray’s almighty company here. A decade ago, he held his place among the seniors at the major tournaments, reaching at least nine semi-finals in the space of ten major tournaments. Now, the other three have left him in the rear-view mirror, amassing the bewildering total of 63 major titles.

But Federer clearly still considers Murray a worthy member of the gang. So he got a supporting chance on Friday night, playing the singles at 7pm against Australian Alex de Minaur before the evening’s main event kicks off.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Murray praised Federer for his usual accurate writing of his exit. Murray said: “The way Roger has gone about it, he seems to correct a lot of things. That is something we can all learn from as well.

“There’s a lot of emotion going on around all of the players,” Murray added. “I imagine Roger will be incredibly difficult, but for a lot of players it will be difficult. Especially [because] We are all proud and excited to be a part of this team and to be here for its last game. It is only right that this is how he will end his career.”



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