One year on from his emotional retirement, Roger Federer is back at the Laver Cup, the team event he co-founded in 2017 and that he hopes will one day establish itself as the Ryder Cup of tennis.
It is not the arena in which he captured the hearts and imaginations of his legion of fans and admirers, but such is the significance of this tournament to the Swiss maestro, it is where he chose to bring the curtain down on a career that saw him transcend his chosen discipline like few others.
“It’s been a great year for us. And it’s nice to see you all, thank you for coming to the Laver Cup,” Federer said. “And it’s great to be back at the Laver Cup, one year later.
“And if I look back at the memories, I thought the farewell was beautiful, it was perfect, it was emotional. There was some proper suffering going on throughout my talk with you [his final on-court interview]. And the moments spent with the team and with London, the fans, the family in the moment. I don’t think it could have been any nicer.
“I was always dreading the moment for years because I knew it was going to come and I know that sometimes when we see our tennis heroes, we don’t remember actually how they went out, all we remember is all the great things they did for tennis and I was just worried that my end was somehow going to be not nice.
“And it was the opposite, it was great. I felt really good about it and very happy. It was something I was very lucky to experience.”
Federer turned pro in 1998 but first thrust himself into the spotlight with a stunning upset victory over Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2001. While unknown at the time, it was a passing of the baton, from one legend who propelled the sport to new heights to another.
During his 24-year career, Federer’s attacking yet elegant style saw him eclipse Sampras’ Grand Slam record and enjoy countless battles with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in particular. It also saw him establish himself as one of sport’s most popular figures and while he said it has been “beautiful” to be able to spend more time at home, he admitted a void has been left following his retirement.
“Of course I do guys,” Federer added, when asked if he missed playing tennis at the highest level. “In a way I miss everything about the game and the exciting moments spent on court, the break points saved, winning match points, holding up trophies, walking past fans taking selfies, it’s all part of one big happy family on the tour.
“I still have those moments from time to time, you know when I went to Wimbledon or I went to Halle, and I made myself a promise that I will be no stranger to the tour, I will try to come back from time to time, not all the time but from time to time. That’s why I’m so happy to be here as well.
“Also it’s been beautiful to be at home more. I’ve also been travelling and been busy but it’s great to know [I’ve not got] the weight of another match or another practice where maybe the body is not right.
“Spending time with friends and family has been incredible, it has been an incredible year honestly. But sure, I do miss a lot of the places that I used to travel to regularly and I have so many friends there and we used to have the best time.
“You can’t have it all, I’ve had it for 25 years and it was incredible, and I would do it all over again. But it came to an end in a great way.”
‘Winning in a team is a great thing’
Federer was inspired to create the Laver Cup by the Ryder Cup, golf’s biennial dust-up between the United States and Europe that grabs the attention of casual sports fans in a way that only team events can.
Named after ‘Rocket’ Rod Laver, six-player teams from Europe and the rest of the world battle it out for bragging rights across three days of singles and doubles action in a race to 13 points.
While still in its infancy, it has already created some brilliant moments between some of the sport’s biggest names, who are able to put aside personal rivalries for one tournament a year and share in the glory of victory and agony of defeat.
“Being in a team environment, I think for an individual athlete, like a tennis player is a great, great thing,” Federer continued. “And that’s why I’ve always been a big team player. And for me, the Laver Cup is an amazing combination of all that.
“Being on the team with other heroes and being together, having dinner together, lunch together, talking tennis all day, and just feeding off one another, and hopefully leaving the Laver Cup motivated and inspired to go on and do great things and win every tournament you possibly can.
“I feel like the Laver Cup did that for me as well. It really gave me something to look forward to. And then also something to talk about after I had left it.
“I think for us individual athletes sometimes it’s tough, you know. When you win you’re alone on the courts, right? And it’s game, set and match and you win and you’re there all by yourself. You’d like to hug the whole crowd, but they’re tucked away.
“And that’s why I think winning in a team is a great thing and can release a lot of great emotions.”
Source: Euro Sports