The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Roger Federer’s final match will be doubles pairing with Rafael Nadal

Roger Federer said his decision to retire because of injuries is final and one that he accepts. (Julian Finney/Getty Images/Laver Cup)

As he heads into the final few days of his storied playing career, Roger Federer hinted Wednesday that he could have a poignant surprise. On Thursday, it became official: He and Rafael Nadal, his longtime friend and rival, will make a dream partnership for a Laver Cup doubles match.

The Swiss great will bow out in London, competing for Team Europe against Team World in the indoor hard court tournament intended to be tennis’s version of the Ryder Cup. The tournament features the sport’s Big Three — Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer — among other elite players in three-set matches and runs Friday through Sunday at O2 Arena.

In his first news conference since announcing his retirement last week, Federer hinted that the final match of his career would be in doubles Friday for Team Europe before allowing Matteo Berrettini to replace him in singles play over the weekend. On Thursday, the Laver Cup made Friday’s schedule official.

Federer has not played competitively in 14 months and said: “I know my limitations. Obviously, I’m nervous going in because I haven’t played in so long. I hope it can be somewhat competitive.”

An on-court pairing with Nadal — the two have 42 Grand Slam singles titles between them — is an ideal ending for him and a natural decision for Bjorn Borg, the Team Europe captain who set the lineup.

“For as long as we battled together to having always this respect for one another, the families, our coaching teams, we always got along really well,” Federer said Wednesday of playing alongside Nadal rather than across from him. “For us as well to go through a career that we both have had and to come out on the other side and being able to have a nice relationship I think is maybe a great message as well to not just tennis but sports and maybe even beyond. For that reason I think it would be great.”

Roger Federer announces his retirement from tennis

Federer made other media appearances in the lead-up to his final event and said he is firm in his decision to walk away because of injuries and multiple surgeries. He said he won’t un-retire, like Tom Brady, or “evolve” like Serena Williams. “No, no. I am definitely done,” Federer said in a “Today” show interview that aired Wednesday morning. “I know that, yeah.”

For so many years, Federer made the grace with which he played appear so effortless that anyone watching him might have thought they could play just as easily until faced with cruel reality. Finally, that reality found Federer, too.

“The last three years have been tough, to say the least,” he told BBC Breakfast. “I knew I was on very thin ice for the last year ever since I played Wimbledon. I tried to come back, but there was a limit to what I could do.

“And I stopped believing in it, to be honest.”

The end came gradually, with Federer playing through injuries and surgical rehab, and then it came suddenly, when a scan of his surgically repaired knee after Wimbledon “was not what I was hoping for.” It left him with no choice but to retire, and his announcement came Sept. 15 in a letter he posted with a video on social media.

“It’s been an emotional few weeks to go through those words to try to get them right, that they reflect how I’m feeling and thanking all the people who have helped along the way,” he told the BBC. “I always pushed my retirement thoughts away. I said, the more I think about it, the more I’m already halfway retired and this is not the way to go to work, you know, for me as a tennis player, so we’ll deal with it when it comes. And it did. And I dealt with it. I think writing those words was for me partially also like rehab, like going myself through all those words, feeling them.”

A timeline of Roger Federer’s glorious tennis career

Federer said his immediate plan for the future involves a vacation and spending time with his wife and four children. Afterward, he’ll find his way forward and tennis will still be a part of that. He said he is interested in youth coaching and developing the next great generation of tennis players and promised: “I love this game and I want to stay involved in some shape or form. I won’t be a ghost or some stranger.”

For now, Federer leaves in amazement at what he accomplished in more than 1,500 tour-level matches: 310 weeks as the world’s No. 1 player (including 237 weeks in a row), 103 Association of Tennis Professional singles titles and, of course, 20 Grand Slam singles championships.

“I don’t think anybody grows up and thinks they’re going to win this much. You know, you’re happy with winning a Wimbledon title, which is already crazy, or becoming number one, being the best,” he told the BBC. “But then you don’t think how many weeks, this is only the media and the fans talking about breaking records.

“Before it was just, I hope to be on tour one day. Just to make it into the top 100 is a huge deal. Coming from a small country, we don’t have a base of so many players. I totally overachieved in my mind. It’s been an absolute dream that I’ve had for so long. And I know that, and that’s why I’m totally happy to step away as well.”