LONDON: Team Europe’s Matteo Berrettini defeated Team World’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in the Laver Cup on Saturday as the tennis world dealt with the hangover from Roger Federer’s emotional farewell party.
Federer said a tearful goodbye to tennis late on Friday night when the 20-time Grand Slam champion and doubles partner Rafael Nadal were beaten by Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe at London’s O2 Arena.
The 41-year-old announced earlier this month that he would retire after the Laver Cup due to the knee problems that had kept him on the sidelines since Wimbledon in 2021.
Federer’s fitness issues meant he could only play one doubles match, so Berrettini was called into the Team Europe squad to replace the Swiss legend after the last game of his incredible career.
With Federer watching from courtside, Berrettini proved a capable deputy as he defeated Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (13-11), 4-6, 10/7 to give Team Europe a 3-2 lead in the three-day tournament.
The 26-year-old Italian, who finished as the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up, had to dig deep to hold off a spirited challenge from Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old Canadian rising star.
Auger-Aliassime, ranked 13th in the world, is one of a group of prodigies hoping to take over from Federer and Nadal as the sport’s next generation.
Nadal had opted to pull out of the rest of the tournament after the Federer doubles match for what organisers said were “personal reasons”.
The Spanish world number three, who has been struggling with an abdominal injury while his wife is heavily pregnant, was replaced by Cameron Norrie on the Team Europe roster.
On the first day of his life after tennis, Federer could have been forgiven for following Nadal’s example and heading off for a well-earned rest.
But Federer showed his passion for tennis is unlikely to fade anytime soon as he sat courtside to support Berrettini with the rest of the Team Europe squad despite the post-midnight finish to his emotional finale.
The polyglot, who has given countless on-court interviews in his 24 years at the top of the game, feared that his emotions would render him inarticulate and dreading being handed a microphone after his final doubles match.
“This is the part I was extremely worried about, taking the microphone. I [wanted] to be able to have an evening where I do not have to take the mic,” he told reporters. Maybe you think it’s logical that I have to take the mic. In my mind I didn’t because I know how impossible I am on the mic when I am emotional. Weeks ago, for a fact, I was so scared of this moment that it really worried me.”
In the event, even though the tears did flow, the 20-times Grand Slam champion was able to find the words to express his feelings to fans, his rivals and his family.
“I was able to remind myself ... how wonderful this is,” he said. “This is not the end-end, you know, life goes on. I’m healthy, I’m happy, everything’s great, and this is just a moment in time. This is how I was able to at least say everything I have wanted, I believe. I was able to get to all those places. It was wonderful.”
That Federer and his great Spanish rival Nadal lost their doubles match to Americans Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe barely mattered as the night became a celebration of one of the greatest players to have graced the game.
Federer, who was involved in setting up the Ryder Cup-style Laver tournament, said “we can all party together” as the 17,500-crowd raised the roof with their acclaim for one of the sport’s all-time greats after his final match.
But there was an inevitable hangover at the O2 Arena as the atmosphere during Berrettini’s clash with Auger-Aliassime struggled to live up to the great man’s swansong.
Federer looked relaxed as he mimicked Berrettini’s clenched-fist celebration as the Italian took the first set after Auger-Aliassime saved five set points in the tie-break.
Auger-Aliassime was unfazed by losing that 75-minute opening set and levelled the match in the second set before Berrettini finally closed out the victory in the first to 10 points ‘Laver Breaker’.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2022