Roger Federer brings the curtain down on his career with a defeat, but is still in awe of long-time friend and rival Rafael Nadal.

The cheers from the crowd, endless applause and chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger,” reduced Federer to tears.

“I enjoyed tying my shoes one last time. One last time.”

The epic tiebreak that secured victory for the American pair was a fitting end to a match that, despite an intense and often emotional build-up, far exceeded expectations in its pomp and quality, but created many. Moments of genius and brought joy to many.

Federer’s retirement announcement added some welcome prestige to this weekend’s event, a three-day event between teams from Europe and the rest of the world since its inception in 2017.

While the tournament, which features nine head-to-head singles and three doubles matches, has previously attracted global prominence, this year’s edition has now undoubtedly become one of the biggest tennis events of the year.

Roger Federer is the genius who made tennis effortless

Of course, this was due to Federer’s swansong, but it also gave tennis fans something they hadn’t seen in years: Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all healthy and competing together in the same tournament.

The social media posts of these four superstars in the week leading up to the event no doubt left fans feeling nostalgic. As they explore the landmarks of London, the four show genuine warmth towards each other, much like a group of school friends who haven’t been together in years.

Nostalgic feelings came from the 2022 Laver Cup, which marked the end of Federer’s long and storied career, but it finally confirmed the start of tennis’ golden age.

With Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all in their 30s and without a lengthy injury at some point during their careers, their final retirements loom large in the game now.

These four players — “the big 3 plus some clowns,” as Murray joked on his own Instagram page — will never officially return to the same tournament.

Federer serves during Friday's match.

Goodbye to a legend

While Federer’s on-court achievements in the men’s game are debatable — he’s arguably in the top three — he’s undoubtedly a tennis player who has picked up a racket.

Largely because of the way he played, no one else in the sport has garnered the universal adoration, accolades or become a cultural icon like the Swiss superstar.

For most of his career, Federer seemed to glide around the court more than scamper, his locks flowing and bouncing above his head, while his ferocious aesthetic became one of the most iconic and recognizable shots tennis has ever seen.

More importantly, the beauty of his playing — at the peak of his powers — brought unprecedented success. He became the first player to break the previous men’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, and then became the first player to reach the milestone of 20.

While Nadal and Djokovic may now surpass his Grand Slam totals, the epic battles Federer has had with these two players over the course of his career have only added to his legacy.

On another day, the three matches leading up to Federer’s final farewell might have been remarkable — Murray and Alex de Minaur were a particularly impressive encounter — but today felt more like a warm-up for the main event.

At the end of the second set of Murray’s match against de Minaur — the Australian won the third-set match tie-break to win the world’s first point — Federer changed his shorts and headband at Team Europe. The dugout and ready to take to the court added to the anticipation that had been steadily building inside the arena.

In De Minaur’s on-court interview after the match, he mentioned how Team World would be cheering against Nadal and Federer, resulting in the 23-year-old being booed by a crowd that erupted in laughter.

Roger Federer of Europe during the opening day of the Laver Cup at the O2 Arena in London on Friday.

Man of the moment

When Federer’s name was finally announced as he walked onto the court, the roar of the crowd was so deafening that it completely drowned out the announcer’s voice before he finished introducing the Swiss and his doubles partner, Nadal.

The 41-year-old was met with another rousing ovation as his achievements were read out during warm-ups, but the loudest roar came when Federer hit a volley to give him and Nadal the first point of the match.

In most of the opening exchanges, Federer still had a zip to his shots. To show for the first time that he struggled to reach the ball.

Not that these moments happened often, a remarkable thought considering his age and the three knee surgeries he’s had. Indeed, as he continues to show a remarkable touch — especially at the net — the capacity crowd at the O2 Arena might wonder why he’s retiring.

One moment in particular drew gasps from the crowd when the big screens showed replays. Chasing a short ball, Federer pressed his forehand into the small gap between the net and the post.

It might have cost them the point as the ball went over the net, but even in the final game of his career, Federer created moments the likes of which had never been seen on a tennis court.

Federer poses with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray following a practice session ahead of the 2022 Laver Cup.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many observers throughout his career often described a wand rather than a sleight of hand, with plenty of magic still remaining.

There were plenty of smiles from both Federer and Nadal at the start, with Federer clearly not listening to the plan for the upcoming point and raising his arms like a Swiss goat, including a chuckle when he had to go back to his partner for another discussion. Excuse me.

But as the first set wore on, the mood on the court changed as the relentless competitiveness that had made these two players such a force for years finally began to come to the fore.

The atmosphere in the arena was on the verge of party mode when the pair, fondly known as ‘Fedal’ by fans, took the first set 6-4.

But make no mistake, Zach and Tiafoe were by no means happy, and allowed Federer to ride off into the sunset with an easy victory. Looking to spoil the party atmosphere, the American pair broke serve early in the second set, but Federer and Nadal soon broke to regain parity.

Roger Federer raises his Laver Cup after a tennis match.

At 5-5 in the best of the match, Nadal saved six break points — including one of Federer’s back-to-back smashes that drew wild cheers from the crowd — to tie the pair. Margin of Victory.

But Zach then executed a tricky service game to take the set to a tiebreak, the first point of which Federer — and the entire stadium — was greeted with a “let” call. The entire stadium booed loudly from the umpire.

A brilliant tie break by the American pair sealed the second set and led to an epic decider.

The drama-filled third set — Federer and Nadal opening up to 3-0, a brutal forehand from Tiafoe smashing into Federer’s back and a standing ovation for an ace from Federer — was fitting. The end of an incomparable life.

In the end, it didn’t matter much that Federer couldn’t get the win and the emotion in his farewell speech — which couldn’t get past his family’s support throughout his career — was even more understated. His twin partner was in tears.

“It feels like a celebration,” Federer said. “It’s finally what I wanted and what I was hoping for.”

CNN’s Ben Morse contributed to this report.

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