Tennis

Rivard: Félix, Roger and all the feels


The weekend of September 23 to 25 was an emotional one. 

I’m dedicating this edition of the blog to the highlights of the 2022 Laver Cup in London for three reasons. 

Looking back on the tournament is inevitable when, like me, a) you’ve been following the career of a young player as brilliant as Félix Auger-Aliassime and, little by little, he begins to warrant the tremendous expectations that have been placed on his immense talent; b) you’ve been a die-hard Roger Federer fan since he first made a name for himself in the ATP; and c) you love the form and substance the Laver Cup delivers year after year. 

As fate would have it, a photo taken on Friday and relayed on Félix’s Insta sums up the tournament pretty well: Novak, Frances and Jack, Auger-Aliassime and Roger, of course.   

A1 AUGER-ALIASSIME  

Photo : Getty 

I thought I’d come full circle after last week’s piece on how team tournaments like the ATP Cup in January and the recent Davis Cup brought out the leader in the Canadian superhero.   

Well, it happened again on Team World at London’s O2 Arena. 

Photo : Laver Cup 

The day after losing to his BFF Matteo Berrettini at the outcome of a really great match (7-6(11), 4-6, 10-7), Félix teamed up with Jack Sock against Berrettini and Andy Murray ahead of the showdown with former World No.1 Novak Djokovic.  

Team World had a bumpy first set, but the Canadian proudly stepped up to deliver some high-level tennis and support Sock, who had his hands equally full. In the end, the reds’ fantastic win (2-6, 6-3, 10-8) kept Team World alive by closing the gap to 8-7. 

Photo : Laver Cup 

If Félix could keep the momentum going and upset the man with 21 Slams, he’d turn the tide and give Team World a 10-8 lead.  

And that’s exactly what he did. Brilliantly.  

After dropping a break early in the first set, FAA took control and kept it all the way to 7-6(3), 6-3, firing 13 aces with his weapon of choice.  

Photo : Getty 

Through Djokovic seemed to be hindered by a right wrist injury that deprived a lot of his shots of their natural thump, all the credit goes to his 23-year-old opponent for three reasons.  

a) He maintained the exceptional level he’d demonstrated the day before and came down from the cloud 9 of his emotional doubles win in just 15 minutes; b) he found a way to shake off the nerves that can encumber a young player when faced with the daunting task of slaying a dragon; and c) he stayed laser focused when he realized his rival’s slight injury could be the key to winning.   

The way Auger-Aliassime tackled those three challenges is truly admirable.  

Needless to say, his latest collective and individual triumphs will further buoy his confidence and give him the experience and mental strength he’ll need to find his way back into the Top 10, Top 5 and Top 3 in 2023.  

The curtain falls 

On September 23, the tennis world bid an emotional farewell to its Maestro. 

Roger Federer announced his long-anticipated retirement himself and orchestrated it in his own way, at the event he helped create.  

In his retirement and his career, he was the master of his destiny. The only unforeseen and unavoidable events were the injuries, which ultimately hastened an exit we would have preferred to happen a little further down the road. 

Even so—and pardon the cliché—all’s well that ends well.  

FAST FRIENDS 

Photo : Laver Cup 

Roger and Rafa. 

Competitors, but friends first. 

It’s an image I won’t soon forget. And not because I was crying like a baby, but on account of the fact that it’s such a rare occurrence in sport. Two of the greatest players in history, two contemporaries who, along with Novak Djokovic, made up a triumvirate whose dominance went unrivalled for about 15 years.  

Let’s start at the end of that unforgettable Friday and the understandable river of tears shed by a man whose candor and capacity to show emotion kept him in the hearts of fans.  

And brought out emotion in those around him. 

Regardless of the outcome of his final match, Federer had a record-breaking run. Without descending into melodrama, the Laver Cup shared a short but poignant video recap of his career followed by a performance by British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding.  

ONE LAST TIME 

Photo : Laver Cup 

As I wrote earlier, you probably watched Roger Federer’s final showdown: Fedal vs. Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. 

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to see that the chair umpire assigned to the momentous match was Mohamed Lahyani. 

Of all the respected and recognized tennis officials, Lahyani ticks a lot of boxes.   

Photo : Laver Cup 

Besides being excellent at his job, the Moroccan-born Swede with the powerful voice was the perfect choice for fans in the arena and at home. He’s serious when he needs to be and easy-going when he can be.  

Despite his years of experience, he’d perhaps never witnessed a sequence as surprising as the one starring the hero of the day at the start of the match. 

Photo : Twitter 

Later, Lahyani demonstrated his remarkable observation skills when he handed down a decision on something not a single person noticed. At the net, Tiafoe tried to recover a short half-volley but, in his vague reaction, ended up hitting the ball twice instead.  

The crowd was perplexed and surprised, but the slow-motion replays proved the outstanding umpire right. 

As for the rest of the show, it lived up to the hype. 

Photo : Laver Cup 

Despite Federer’s 14-month absence, a few curious errors by Nadal and the fact that the two almost never teamed up in doubles, Rafa and Roger played some impressive tennis, falling short only in the super-tiebreak. 

Final score: 4-6, 7-6(2), 11-9 for Sock and Tiafoe. 

Photo : Laver Cup 

Not the expected result, but one from which a kind of relief emerged.  

Let me explain the Hollywood exit.  

a) One of the greatest and most beloved players announces his retirement; b) he plays his final match at the tournament he created with his friend and business partner Tony Godsick five years ago; c) the event invites a dozen of the best and most high-profile players in the ATP; and d) the two other members of the Big Three decide to join Federer on the bench. 

Of the Big Four, actually.  

Photo : Laver Cup 

The perfect show deserved the perfect ending with Federer and Nadal coasting to victory. But even though they could have tipped the scales with a little extra push or a double fault, it didn’t happen. And that maintained the integrity of the sport. 

Federer, whose self-respect and uprightness don’t require a Hollywood ending, was the first to be relieved by the outcome.  

And what’s not to love about two rival teams lifting their idol after his customary acknowledgements and a lap around the court?  

Photo : Laver Cup 

GOAT? No, MLOAT 

Photo : Tennishead.net 

For about a decade, the title of GOAT and the name Roger Federer have often gone together. But since he’s fallen to third in the race for Slams, many fans—and especially Rafa and Novak’s most devoted supporters—aren’t so sure anymore.  

And rightly so. Even as a steadfast Fed fan, I can admit it.  

Let’s face it. Across all sports, it takes a solid foundation and a bunch of stats to assess potential GOATs and award the title, which is so important to the fans who love to award titles.  

Despite his celebrated career, Roger Federer lags behind his two biggest rivals and a few greats from a bygone era in a lot of categories. 

His 103 ATP titles mean he’s six short of Jimmy Connors’ record of 109.  

Roger has 20 Slam championships. That’s one less than Djokovic and two less than Nadal—neither of whom are done with tennis yet and could move even further ahead.   

Novak and Rafa are also ahead in the ATP’s Big Titles rankings released after Wimbledon, which consider the Grand Slam championships, Nitto ATP Finals and Masters 1000 competitions.   

Photo : ATP 

Only on his beloved English grass does Federer continue to reign with his eight titles (one more than Djokovic). But barring sudden decline or injury, no one’s betting against Novak pocketing another one. 

Photo : Yahoo 

So, we’re faced with a dilemma. In terms of numbers, Federer isn’t the GOAT. Still, many would argue that the lack of controversy surrounding him, his flawless record off the court, the impeccable way he conducts himself in public and his image as the perfect husband and father should confer the status of greatest of all time. 

Superfans agree. Fans who rely on logic (and others) are shaking their heads in a hard no.  

I propose to resolve the issue with a new acronym inspired by GOAT that few will challenge.  

MLOAT: most loved of all time.  

In my opinion, Roger Federer will remain the most beloved/appreciated player of all time. 

QED: quod erat demonstrandum


Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @paul6rivard 

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