ROGER FEDERER’S FAREWELL TO THE LAVER CUP AND HIS WELCOME TO A REJUVENATED TEAM WORLD
Is there a generational shift occurring in men’s tennis? When Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal cease teaming to win three Grand Slam championships per season, then I will believe it.
But in light of what we have seen this past weekend, Laver Cup appears to be seeing a change in leadership. The event kicked off on Friday with Roger Federer, 41, playing in his final match as a professional and the Big 4 making one final appearance as a group. The match was won by Frances Tiafoe, 24, and Felix Auger-Aliassime, 22, on Sunday, securing the Cup. Together, they helped a young Team World defeat Team Europe’s veteran leadership for its first victory in five tries.
When Europe defeated the World 14-1 in Boston just one year ago, many of us began to wonder if Europe would remain unbeaten indefinitely. Therefore, this represents significant and astounding growth.
Of course, the outcome isn’t the only or even the key factor in the Laver Cup. It has created and inhabited a middle ground between serious competition and personality-driven presentation over the course of its five editions. The 2022 version expertly combined the two and demonstrated the importance of making the sport more accessible and allowing us to get to know its athletes in a way we have never done before.
That started with the Big 4 this time. Naturally, the first headlines focused on Federer’s retirement and his farewell match—and sob session—with Nadal. However, I also found Djokovic’s participation to be fascinating and appropriate. After all, he faced Federer 50 times over 15 seasons, winning many of them.
While competing for Europe, Djokovic won a singles and doubles match on Saturday before falling to Auger-Aliassime the following day. To me, his time spent coaching Andy Murray stands out more. Naturally, Djokovic was adroit strategically, but he also knew what a good coach should be like. He didn’t come out as overbearing, only offered his opinions when asked, and didn’t overburden Murray’s mind with ideas.
“Novak, I feel like we can’t be afraid to hit the ball,” Federer said to Djokovic, and Djokovic agreed. That the Swiss and the Serb, who had for so long defined tennis with their iconic Grand Slam finals—including one of the best ever at Wimbledon in 2019—sound precisely like you, me, and every other person in the world when we converse with one another was mind-boggling to me. Though I know in theory that any performer who appears to be superhuman has a normal human underneath them, the reminder of this fact is nonetheless startling.
The Laver Cup exhibition, which took place over the first half of the weekend, was all about the past. But by Sunday, the contest was in full swing, and it was all about the future. With Taylor Fritz’s tight victory over Cam Norrie on Saturday, 10-8 in a match tiebreaker, Team Europe was replaced by Team World. It continued with stunning and unexpected victories by Auger-Aliassime and Tiafoe.
On Saturday, the American and Canadian had a sluggish start in singles. FAA was defeated by Matteo Berrettini in three sets, and Djokovic promptly escorted Tiafoe off the court. However, on Sunday they calmed down, gradually developed confidence, and demonstrated their potential—and what they ought to be capable of going forward.
Djokovic was defeated by Auger-Aliassime on a hard court, one of the most difficult challenges in the sport. He was the more aggressive and proactive player, and when he lost an early second set service break, he didn’t lose his cool. The Laver Cup at its best, Tiafoe’s path to triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas was more difficult and dramatic. He avoided losing four match points and survived two tense, thrilling tiebreakers. Similar to his performance at the US Open, Tiafoe shown a fresh talent for navigating a challenging opponent in a close encounter. Although he has always been a performer, he now has the substance to support the flair.
What’s next for the Laver Cup? I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the final time we saw any of the Big 4 participate in this competition. However, there are viable candidates in the wings, with Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev perhaps entering for Europe and Nick Kyrgios returning for the World. The Laver Cup may be the ideal setting for supporters to learn more about the new No. 1 Alcaraz.
The occasion has moreover shown to be a great place for retirees. In a few years, might Nadal replicate Federer’s moving farewell? You wouldn’t mind witnessing them sob once more in each other’s arms, would you?