Member Insights: Federer’s final curtain call: a moment that moved the world of sport and beyond
September 26, 2022
Michael Pirrie, takes a look at the farewell of one of not just Tennis but Sport’s true greats, and why it meant so much to fans.
Like prime real estate, great events are often all about location, location, location. Roger Federer’s farewell was located perfectly in the end at the London O2, one of the world’s leading entertainment centres if not centre courts.
And this was hot property.
Like a great movie, which Federer’s career and life will no doubt soon become on Netflix, the farewell had a cinema-like quality as viewers around the world tuned in on screens of all shapes and sizes for this unique sporting occasion.
And like many great movies, it was also a real tearjerker.
This was not an opening night premier but a final showing; different to anything seen in sport or entertainment before.
While the traditions of English tennis were perhaps most suited to Federer’s style and temperament, he developed a new personality and brand for tennis that spanned the world’s grand slam capitals and beyond.
Everything about his farewell was surreal and a dream-like quality filled the cavernous O2 venue.
It qualified as sport but it was the most surreal of sporting experiences.
This was a celebration for the ages disguised as a sporting event. Unusual and unique like Federer.
It was more like travelling in a 21st century sports time machine back to London for a final performance by Federer who had almost reinvented much about the sport over the past two decades.
The O2 event was more like a concert than a competition for Federer, the player other players stayed behind to watch play.
“Baryshnikov in sneakers,” according to US tennis champion and commentator, John McEnroe
The Laver Cup blurred the lines between tennis and theatre as the event was transformed into a one-man tournament.
Award winning British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding tried to tap into the moment, singing out the evening with Falling for You to Federer, even if some of his favourite road songs include music by Queen, Bon Jovi and Roxette.
The only thing missing was end-of-show fireworks and atmospheric fog or mist-like special effects, possible only at the O2 but not Wimbledon.
Federer owned this Laver Cup even before the first ball was bounced.
It was a sell out with scarce tickets going for many thousands of dollars on the black market even if it had been almost two years since Federer’s last public performance.
The event was fun but had finality too.
Federer’s ageing body means there will be no more comebacks – unlike like NFL quarterback great Tom Brady, who like Federer had achieved almost all that was possible in his sport, but suddenly cancelled his plans to quit football shortly after his retirement announcement earlier this year.
Federer’s farewell can only possibly be extended via holograms, avatars or video games.
Ultimately Federer was much more than the results he achieved – the frequency and longevity of his success even had some critics complaining of boredom until they stopped and looked more closely at the unprecedented improvisation and innovation he created in shot making mid point that left opponents shattered.
With Federer it was much more about what he brought to the game and to sport more widely.
While there were no five set epics this time, the O2 farewell held deep meaning for the legions of fans.
There were no love matches but much love for the athlete who surpassed conventions and expectations, bringing new outcomes and possibilities for tennis and in life beyond sport.
Federer, often compared with Muhammad Ali or Pele, played the way his many fans dreamed tennis could be played – how they would play if they could.
He turned fan fantasies into reality and rarely disappointed.
The farewell event said much about Federer and about the sport
Federer returned the love and affection inside the London stadium as well as his return of srvice.
This was the big dance for tennis and while there were many potential partners, Federer’s choice of Rafael Nadal as his doubles buddy was as inevitable as it was heart warming.
It was also epic. Two legends together on the court, representing an almost incomprehensible 42 grand slam titles between them.
This is the dream of every sports governing body and federation.
Novak Djokovic, the vaudeville villain of tennis, was waiting in the wings for a possible call up with 21 grand slams.
Never had such an assembly of tennis achievement or been assembled in one place in recent times.
“We al knew it would be an emotional farewell for Roger but we were all taken away by the moment,” Djokovic said later.
“I think we would all agree this was one of the most beautiful moments anyone has experienced on a tennis court.”
Federer’s toughest opponent on the night was not himself nor his rivals on the other side of the net.
The biggest challenge came from the master of ceremonies, Jim Courier, in his post match interview about retirement.
While Federer’s emotional post comments were the highlight of the night, it was the images beamed across London and the world that did most of the talking.
Images of tears of exhaustion and emotion rolling down Federer’s face and Nadal’s too and no attempt hide the emotions.
Tears of overwhelming emotion that flowed from the legends and across the faces of fans standing in ovation for an encore that would never come.
Perhaps more than any grand slam victory, this night will be the most memorable for Federer.