Tennis stars praise Federer ahead of his retirement from tennis

After more than 1,500 games, 103 singles titles and 20 Grand Slams, it’s time for Roger Federer’s last dance.

The tennis great will take to the court for the last time with longtime friend and rival Rafael Nadal in a doubles match in the Laver Cup at London’s O2 Arena on Friday before giving up his racquet for good.

After 24 years of outstanding performance on the pitch, Federer will retire as one of the greatest players of all time, loved by his competitors and fans alike.

And before his final competitive appearance, some of his toughest opponents over the years, whom he’s beaten and, more rarely, lost, paid their respects.

“He has a lot of sports fans that are starting to follow tennis,” three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray told CNN Sport. “He’s one of the most popular athletes in all sports because he’s done his business on and off the court and yes he’s going to leave a huge void and tennis will definitely miss him.”

Twenty-one-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic echoed Murray’s sentiment, highlighting Federer’s far-reaching influence. “As a tennis fan, not just his rival and tennis player, I am grateful for everything he has done for our sport.

“He brought so much attention and positive attention to our sport on and off the court and got a lot of other sports fans to watch tennis so his contribution has been huge. His impact on my own career has been huge, I’ve become a better player because of the rivalry I’ve had with him over the years,” Djokovic told CNN Sport. “I’m sure his iconic career will last a very long time and many people will have positive memories.”

Although he hasn’t been able to show as much as he would have liked in recent years, Federer’s presence has played a big role.

After making his tour debut in 1998, he became one of tennis’s most dominant players for over two decades, setting records for tour wins and men’s Grand Slam singles titles.

In his long and eventful career, Federer also spent a record 237 consecutive weeks at the top of the world rankings between 2004 and 2008. And ahead of his last game, he said his longevity at the top is something he’s proud of.

“I was known for being quite unpredictable early in my career. If you remember, I was famous for not being that consistent. Then to become one of the most consistent players of all time is quite a shock for me too” said Federer that informed the press on Thursday.

“That was a great achievement for me personally. People can judge if that’s what they think too, but for me that’s something I’ve really enjoyed and that I’ve been able to stay at the top and compete for so long. Any tournament that I was going to be in I would really go out and saying “I hope I can win the tournament” and have been for more than 15 years.

“I think looking back it has a special meaning to me because I’ve always looked at the Michael Schumachers, Tiger Woods and all the other guys that stayed at the top for so long I didn’t understand how they did it to have. Next you, you know, you’re part of this group and it was a great feeling.”

While both Djokovic and Nadal have surpassed Federer’s record of men’s singles Grand Slam titles, the Swiss has remained a fan favorite for his elegance and grace on and off the pitch.

The 41-year-old’s appearances have been limited in recent years due to injuries, multiple knee surgeries in recent years and his most recent loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year in straight sets.

He said he was still planning to return to the sport next year two months ago before making the decision to retire.

Federer said he had to get permission from Team Europe captain Björn Borg and tournament organizers to take part in just one doubles match at the Laver Cup – which sees teams from Europe and the rest of the world compete in nine singles and three doubles matches over the course of three days.

“Super special game with Rafa [Nadal]feels really different, you know?” Federer said at Thursday’s press conference. “Also just to go on the pitch and have the chance to play with the likes of Rafa or Novak [Djokovic] It’s been an amazing experience for me in the past too, so I’m sure it will be wonderful to be able to do it again.”

Nadal said at Thursday’s press conference that he was “super excited” for Friday’s doubles.

“After all the amazing things we share on and off the pitch, [to] Be part of this historical moment that will be something amazing and unforgettable for me,” said Nadal, “and yes, super excited, I hope I can have a good time, play at a decent level and hopefully we can create something together good moment and maybe win a match.”

Federer will play in doubles on Friday night before Italy’s Matteo Berrettini takes the Swiss’ place on Team Europe for the remainder of the competition. The Laver Cup was created by Federer in 2017 and is named after the great Australian Rod Laver.

And for the man himself, who will no doubt receive a heroic farewell from the ecstatic crowd in London when he takes on Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe with Nadal, Federer admitted he would miss tennis.

“I love tennis, everything about it,” he said. “I will miss the competition, the fans cheering for or against me.

“They were usually with me all the way, so it was great. I can always travel so I won’t miss that, but I love touring with my family even in the second part of my career – it’s been wonderful.”

He added: “You always want to play forever. I love being on the pitch, I love playing against the lads and I love to travel. I never really felt like it was that hard for me – winning, learning from losing – it was all perfect.

“I love my career from every angle. That’s the bitter part [of retiring]. The sweet part was that I know everyone has to do it at some point. Everyone has to leave the game. It was a great, great trip. I’m really grateful for that.”