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Larger than life: Roger Federer "never" dreamed his swan song would involve a Big Four reunion
The band is back together to help send off the 41-year-old Friday night in London, and the Laver Cup co-founder couldn't think of a more "perfect" scenario.
Published Sep 23, 2022
WATCH: Roger Federer's Laver Cup press conference
LONDON—Backstreet's back, alright?
Maybe not in London this week, though there’s another celebrated group in town that has the power of feeling larger than life.
As Roger Federer gets set to play the final match of his career Friday, his greatest rivals are here to help send off the 20-time major champion with one special reunion tour at The O2 Arena.
“Backstreet Boys!” laughs Novak Djokovic when I ask him about the ‘Big Four Band’ getting together again all these years later in an interview for Tennis Channel.
While Federer didn’t exactly say I want it that way—an ongoing right-knee injury is certainly a driving factor of a shortened comeback attempt—putting on one last show at an event he co-founded is still a dream scenario for the 41-year-old.
“Never,” he says when asked if he ever envisioned going out at Laver Cup. “This was more created for the fans, for the game, for the players, and going cross generations. It’s so nice that tickets were sold out way ahead of me announcing their retirement. That makes it, in a way, hard because I know many more people would've probably loved to be here, which have some regrets about.
“I would like to play an exhibition down the road where I can say thank you to all the fans, invite all my friends as well, because a lot of my friends can't come here last minute.”
When Djokovic and Andy Murray began making headway on the ATP Tour for the first time in 2005, Federer was already the sport's dominant fixture and teenager Rafael Nadal had emerged as the Maestro’s most formidable opponent. For a period, Djokovic and Murray went back and forth in their own rivalry until the Serbian grabbed a firm hold of their head-to-head series and materialized as the toughest out for Federer and Nadal to solve on the major stage. It was those developmental years that Djokovic credits for propelling him to 21 Grand Slam trophies and the most weeks spent atop the ATP rankings.
“We have learned a lot from each other and we became the players that we are today because of the rivalries we had between four of us. I appreciate that very much. I value that very much,” Djokovic reflects.
“It's a mixed emotion with Roger’s farewell. Obviously, because the tennis world and sports world is losing a lot by him retiring, but at the same time his legacy and celebration of his career will live forever. Everything that he has left on the court and off the court is something that inspires so many people. So, we are here to marvel that and celebrate his achievements.”
It's a mixed emotion with Roger’s farewell. Obviously, because the tennis world and sports world is losing a lot by him retiring, but at the same time his legacy and celebration of his career will live forever. —Novak Djokovic
If anyone’s had a front row seat at the genius Federer, Djokovic and Nadal each exhibit in their own remarkable manner, it’s been Murray. Of his eight Grand Slam final defeats, all came against Djokovic (five) and Federer (three). Eight of 10 major semifinal losses were at the expense of Nadal (five), Djokovic (two) and Federer (one).
While this trailblazing trio undoubtedly inflicted its share of suffering, to cite a Nadal-ism, they also forced Murray to continue asking the question on what it takes to reach the top. Summoned to describe what he absorbed from each throughout his journey to this point, Murray had plenty to express.
“Novak’s gone on to achieve incredible things in the sport, but he was someone at the beginning of my career I was always watching," he says. "It was always pretty friendly and some of the matches that we played against each other were inspiring for me. I always had to learn from them and improve because of them to try and achieve my own dreams and my own goals. And a lot of that's happened on the court.
“The way that Roger and Rafa conducted themselves away from the court has been something that I respected a lot over the years and learned from a lot. I think even this week, these few days, the way that Roger has gone about it and how he seems to be with such a big decision or moment in his career that it's ending—he just seems to get a lot of things right, do things the right way. And that's something that we can all learn from as well.”
Federer’s final appearance evokes an encore vibe with Nadal slated to be by his side for Team Europe to close out Friday evening’s night session against Team World's Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. The reverence between the two is undeniable, as Nadal touched on in press on Thursday. “Personal relationships are more important than sometimes professional things. We were able to handle it I think the proper way.”
If there’s a city on tour where Federer has consistently shown the shape of his heart, it’s London. Just under 11 percent of his tour-level victories were celebrated here—highlighted by eight Wimbledon trophies and the final pair of his six ATP Finals crowns. And for those successes among many reasons, it’s the perfect location for this unscripted swan song.
“It couldn't be, I think, any more perfect,” he says as we wrap.
“I just tried to find a place where it would be fun as well, the end and not lonely and scary.”