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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday September 27, 2022

 
Federer and Djokovic Laver Cup

What made the Laver Cup weekend so moving? It wasn't one thing -- it was everything.

Photo Source: Getty Images

A GOAT candidate retires, and suddenly it doesn’t seem to matter who the real (men’s) GOAT is.

Funny how that works.

Roger Federer? Rafael Nadal? Novak Djokovic? How about all three?

Tennis Express

More important than deciding who is better, or was better, this weekend we got to decide what it is that we loved most about Federer – whether he be the GOAT or simply prelude.

What Federer’s essence is to you might not be what it is to someone else. But wasn’t it finally nice to get to a place where we the tennis-crazed masses could finally get on the same page and put a halt to all the madness about who is better and why?

That was the stunning realization of this year’s Laver Cup. The warmth, the emotions, the camaraderie, the tribute – they all served to put wind in the sails of the tennis vessel and there isn’t a single enthusiast out there, no matter where loyalties lie, that can complain about that.

And thank you Novak Djokovic, unsung hero of the Laver Cup weekend, for your contributions. Once again Djokovic showed his class in spades. All the while in the midst of a professionally debilitating year, Djokovic let the world know that there was only one way to feel about Roger Federer’s retirement, the legacy he leaves behind and the stunning waterworks that flooded the O2 Arena this weekend: grateful.

He summed up his feelings succinctly.

"We would all agree this was one of the most beautiful moments that everyone has experienced live or on TV on the tennis courts worldwide of all time," said the Serb.

It was Djokovic who kept the flame lit on Saturday, giving the fans more of what they came to London for. He has been a bitter rival to Federer, responsible for so much of the Swiss’ heartbreak over the years, but clearly he has never lost sight of the big picture. He could have influenced the weekend in a number of ways, and chose the perfect lane to take.

Unlike Nadal, who grew closer to Federer and joined forces with him as their rivalry/ friendship evolved over the years, Djokovic has functioned more as a thorn in Federer and Nadal’s side over the past decade and that is a testament to his greatness.

He made the party more inclusive – let’s hope that the favor is returned when it is his time to bid farewell.

The most beautiful element of this weekend was that it provided an opportunity to fall in love with Federer all over again. And the feelings were mutual - and genuine.

One realization that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic can all swiftly make is that none of them would be where they are if it were not for the other two. That is the beauty of the three-headed monster that has ruled men’s tennis for two decades. This golden age was born from an unrelenting need to compete, to test the limits of what we thought possible on a tennis court, and it would not have been the same without Federer setting the bar impossibly high, both in style and in substance.

The Swiss was the aesthetic archetype for a new gilded age of tennis. He was sleek, silky and versatile, with one foot in the future and the other in the past. He wasn’t just good. He was good at winning, and winning over people, all in fell swoop. It took Federer six years from his first major title to hold the all-time record for Grand Slam singles titles. Like a tornado, he ripped through the record books.

Not until five years into his reign, when Nadal’s revolutionary footprint slammed down on the clay did we realize what was in store for the sport.

From there the tectonic plates began to shift. There was Federer, regal, finessing and imperious, handcuffed by the Tasmanian devil cum King of Clay, a revolution unto himself. Then Nadal, bronze and unbeatable for a spell, finally a victim of a force so legendary: Djokovic, a contortionist with an unquenchable penchant for turning tennis’ biggest stages into gladiatorial pits.

And there we were on Friday, the full circle moment that none of us ever expected. Three heads and one collective conscience. 63 major singles titles, 20 years of tears, and myriad memories to celebrate, all in one night!

Suddenly, for one shining weekend, the most ardent fan of one or the other becomes an even more ardent fan of THEM. We think collectively, not who is the GOAT? But instead recognize: they all are one giant GOAT!

A collective. A triumvirate to die for.

And quite an epiphany.

Last weekend we said goodbye to Federer, but said hello to any apprehension we ever had when it came to fully appreciating his role in the forward progress of our sport. Roger pushed tennis into the future while at the same time turning back the clock. The elegant simplicity of his throwback style, coupled with the menacing minutiae that made him a puzzle that could not be solved for the better part of a decade, was the tennis that kicked off the golden age of men’s tennis. Federer was the complete player, mentally, physically, tactically, technically.

The Swiss gave us so much more than tennis. Emotionally Federer cracked the window to a new breed of openness. He was vulnerable, eager to share his passion with fans (also the debilitating weight of his extreme heartbreaks so they wouldn’t crush him).

There are myriads who will remember Federer for how he made them feel rather than how he played the game – that, in and of itself, is a rare talent.

In the aftermath of a remarkable weekend, it’s never been clearer. This sadness we feel is poignant and sweet. This golden era may be ending but would any of us change any of it?

Federer the player, Federer the artist, Federer the brand; Federer’s heart on his sleeve and in our hearts. We can see it now, embrace it like mad, hang on to it in our minds and our memories, because it has flowed through him and into us.

We’re all better for it, whether we lived and died on his every match or not. Whether we rooted for him or not. Whether we watched it through the rose-tinted glasses of the converted or the angry eyes of those he thrashed, or both – he was the Maestro and he made us all better, until the very last teardrop hit the court and the roar faded into the rafters at the O2.

 

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