In an ideal world, Federer would have loved to go out fighting for his sporting life at a major tournament – just as Serena Williams did when she saved five match points in a tumultuous finale against Alja Tomljanovic at the recent US Open. Instead, he is pushing his ruined knee through what is effectively a doubles exhibition.
Still, at least Federer’s long goodbye has provided the fifth edition of the Laver Cup with a purpose it has hitherto lacked. And the O2 Arena’s low-stakes environment provides the perfect setting for a man whose 41-year-old body has finally broken down. The fact that Federer founded this event himself, in 2017, suggests that he can add “seeing the future” to his lengthy list of accomplishments.
Backstage, the Laver Cup’s social-media team are revelling in the presence of the so-called Big Four, who are combining on the European team for the first time. Even before the tournament begins, we have already seen them sharing a court for a doubles knockabout, piling into the Tower of London for a smart private dinner, and discussing local architecture on a walk along the South Bank.
“What happened to it?” asks Murray in one short video, looking up at the pointy tip of The Shard. “That’s how it is. It’s like a broken glass,” replies Federer. Even now that these multi-millionaires have reached their mid-30s, he still feels like Dad. As if to underline the point, Novak Djokovic, the eternal younger brother, then pipes up gleefully from the sidelines: “Andy, he’s giving you lessons about London!”