One of the greatest careers in tennis, and greatest rivalries, ended in tears and a display of admiration.
Tennis icon Roger Federer capped off his career at 41 years old in a doubles match alongside Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup in London Friday. Facing off against Team World's Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock at the O2, Nadal and the new retiree fell short 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9, as ESPN reports. But it was the outpouring of love for Federer that made it a memorable night.
"It was never supposed to be that way," Federer said in his farewell speech. "I was just happy to play tennis and spend time with my friends, really. And then I ended up here. It's been a perfect journey. I would do it all over again. It's been great. It's been so much fun. It's been amazing. Thank you, everybody. I've had so many people cheer me on, and you guys here tonight mean the world."
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 24, 2022
Federer's emotional goodbyes were also met with tears from his great rival Nadal, who cried alongside him while taking in the atmosphere of the event before a performance from Ellie Goulding. Several clips of their emotional embrace went viral on Twitter Friday night.
"When Roger leaves the tour, yeah, an important part of my life is leaving too because all the moments he has been next or in front me in important moments of my life," Nadal said, per CNN. "So has been emotional (to) see the family, see all the people. Yeah, difficult to describe. But [an] amazing moment."
The pair, who have a combined 42 grand slam victories, with Federer winning 20 and Nadal winning 22, have a long history together in the sport. Their 2008 Wimbledon final, where Nadal won in the final set, might be their most remembered, but the two played their first match with each other in March 2004 at the Miami Masters.
Clive Brunskill/Getty for Laver Cup
Federer competed in his first junior match in 1996 when he was 14, and made his ATP debut at the 1998 Swiss Open Gstaad two years later. The athlete went on to win his first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 2003, and since then, eventually earned his position in the sport's Big Three alongside Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Federer announced his decision to retire earlier this month, telling fans that after 20 Grand Slam titles, two Olympic medals and multiple No. 1 rankings, the event would be the end of a 24-year career.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up to date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Julian Finney/Getty for Laver Cup
"As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I've worked hard to return to full and competitive form," he said in a video shared on Twitter. "But I also know my body's capacities and limits and its message to me lately has been clear. I am 41 years old. I've played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years"
During his speech, Federer — who hugged his children at the cup — thanked his family for supporting him throughout his career, from his wife Mirka Federer to his parents, who were also in attendance. He fought back tears as he shared the individual ways in which they lifted him up.
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 23, 2022
"She could've stopped me a long, long time ago," Federer said of Mirka as she watched on. "But she didn't. She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it's amazing. Thank you."