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O2 ARENA — That’s all, folks. Roger Federer served up an emotional late-night spectacle with Rafael Nadal even though the final match of the Swiss’ glittering 24-year career ended in defeat on Friday night.

The Laver Cup turned into Federer’s farewell party the moment he announced he would be retiring after the tournament last week.

Only fit enough to play one doubles match in the three-day team event, Federer’s wish was granted when Nadal was named as his final partner, with the pair representing Team Europe against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock.

To the delight of this partisan crowd at The O2 in London, with some having paid thousands to witness the spectacle, Federer’s first shot was a volley winner, and he and Nadal then went on to pinch the opening set 6-4.

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Federer had not been seen on court since Wimbledon last year, and though his movement appeared limited, during what is essentially an exhibition at heart it was evident the 41-year-old wanted to bow out with a win.

That meant for some audible frustration when his racket skills did not live up to their old standards, but rust was to be expected, although it was Nadal who was broken first in the second set as Tiafoe and Sock looked to force a tie-break decider.

The duo affectionately known by their supporters as “Fedal” hit back, though, to make it 3-3, and by the time they led 5-4 the reality kicked in that any game could be Federer’s last.

With that moment ahead of him, Federer stayed silent during the changeover, and there was a shift in the O2 atmosphere as well as the occasion dawned on the crowd too.

Pictures emerged on social media of Federer’s wife Mirka waiting in the wings, with tributes and tears inevitability to follow on court, but still there was a match to conclude, and a gutsy hold from Nadal made it 6-5 in Team Europe’s favour.

There was still time for a vintage Federer forehand winner, and then a second-set tie-break followed, which was dominated by Sock and Tiafoe 7-2 to setup a first-to-10 match tie-break.

The breaker ebbed both ways, with a Federer ace helping Team Europe lead 6-5 before a volley winner made it 7-7. Team World edged ahead with a mini-break, but Nadal and Federer struck back, only to spurn the first match point when Federer could only find the net.

Then came Team World’s time to bite back, and after a ferocious forehand winner from Tiafoe, a Sock winner sealed the match – there would be no gimmes here.

“We’ll get through this somehow,” he said at the start of his on-court interview.

“I told the guys I’m happy, I’m not sad, it feels great to be here. I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time, everything was the last time. I didn’t feel stressed so much, even if I did think my calf or back was going to go, I was so happy I made it through.

“Of course playing with Rafa on the same team. Having the legends there. Rocket [Rod Laver], [Stefan] Edberg… thank you.”

That prompted some tears, but interviewer Jim Courier allowed Federer time to compose himself before the Swiss added: “I didn’t want to feel lonely out there. To be saying goodbye in a team, I was a team player at heart, singles doesn’t do that a lot. I had a team that travelled with me, so thanks to everybody who made it work.”

The tears continued after Federer declared “It’s been a perfect journey, I would do it all over again,” and then he joked “Do we have to?” when asked about his family, and particularly wife Mirka.

“She kept me going and allowed me to play. It’s amazing. Thank you,” he added. And with that, on came, er, Ellie Goulding, to sing a couple songs.

Murray loses to De Minaur

Andy Murray is playing on home soil but always knew his role would be that of the warm-up act at the Laver Cup on Friday night.

Murray opened the evening’s proceedings against Australian Alex de Minaur, and rather typically Murray played out a slugfest which delayed the main event to beyond 10pm, edging the first set 7-5 after 81 minutes before De Minaur responded to level the match after play had comfortably passed the two-hour mark.

At least there was just a first-to-10 tie-break to decide the match, and it was De Minaur who edged it to put the first point on the board for Team World.

The day that ended with Federer retiring started with two victories for Team Europe.

The O2 is staging the fifth edition of this annual event, and while this weekend has essentially become Federer’s farewell party, there is still a trophy to be won come Sunday.

Team Europe have dominated this tournament since its inception in 2017, winning all four events so far, and having won 14-1 last year the hope was for a more competitive spectacle this time around.

On paper, Europe have the stronger team with four top-10 players to Team World’s zero, but some of the match-ups may well prove to be closer than the ATP rankings let on, with the visiting team boasting a youthful roster that could well trouble Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray.

First up for Europe, however, was their highest-ranked player in the event, world No 2 Casper Ruud, who opened the show against USA’s Jack Sock on Friday afternoon.

Ruud, a French Open and US Open finalist this year, took the opening set against Sock, but the American replied to level the match with his teammates close by in support.

A super tie-break followed to decide the victor, and it was Ruud who clinched it 10-7 to hand Europe an early 1-0 lead.

Laver Cup Friday results and schedule

1pm Day Session

  • Match 1 – Casper Ruud beats Jack Sock 6-4 5-7 (10-7) – Singles
  • Match 2 – Stefanos Tsitsipas beats Diego Schwartzman 6-2 6-1 – Singles

7pm Night Session

  • Match 3 – Alex de Minaur beats Andy Murray 5-7 6-4 (10-7) – Singles
  • Match 4 – Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal 4-6 7-6(2) (11-9) – Doubles

Team Europe lead 2-1

Stefanos Tsitsipas’ match against Diego Schwartzman followed, and it was largely overshadowed by a climate change activist setting fire to his own arm on the court before being carried off by security.

“It came out of nowhere. I had no idea what this was all about. I’ve never had an incident like this before on court. I hope he’s alright,” Tsitsipas, who won the 6-2 6-1 to help Europe double their lead, said afterwards.

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Asked about whether his discussion with the umpire was to ensure the court was playable, the Greek replied: “Correct.

“I wanted to proceed that match without having any minor changes to the court. I wanted to make sure it was playable, especially that area. It also got in my way, the way I saw the court later, there was a big mark and I wanted it to be cleaned up.”

Roger Federer bows out with tearful farewell alongside Rafael Nadal at Laver Cup

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