It was a moment in time, as brief as half a second, that captured the intensity of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal’s relationship and rivalry.
Positioned courtside with her camera at the ready, photographer Ella Ling expected Federer’s departure from tennis to be emotionally charged, though when the moment came, the torrent of tears and adulation caught her by surprise.
Across from her at London’s O2 Arena were Federer and Nadal, the Swiss star’s longtime friend and rival, sitting hand in hand as they sobbed uncontrollably.
As the scene after Federer’s final match unfolded, Ling began to click on his camera and hoped for the best.
“It was just when I went back to my computer and downloaded everything I found from that shot and thought, ‘Wow, that’s the one I want to share with everyone,’” Ling, who follows men’s and women’s tennis tours around the world. world said CNN Sport.
The image in question, a shot of Federer’s hand on top of Nadal’s as Ellie Goulding performs “Still Falling For You” during the Laver Cup, has turned heads, capturing a scene unlike any Ling has witnessed in a video. tennis court.
“I just wanted to capture an image that really summed up the feel of the night, but also a moment in history when he [Federer] he is finally playing his last game and has retired, ”he adds.
“I would have loved to have an iconic image, but I never imagined I would actually get one.”
The Laver Cup provided an opportunity to pay tribute to Federer’s brilliant tennis career, although the results did not go in his favor.
Playing alongside Nadal, he lost his doubles match against Americans Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe on the first day of the tournament, then sat on the sidelines for the next two days as Team Europe fell 13-8 to Team World.
But the images that will likely come to define Federer’s swan song are of him and Nadal, rivals for more than 15 years with 42 Grand Slam titles between them, struggling to control their emotions.
“Off the court, I think they (Federer and Nadal) share very, very similar values and morals,” says Ling.
“They value family a lot, they value respect. They are both very, very elegant. They always win sportsmanship awards and stuff like that. I think that’s where they came together.
“But at the same time, I don’t think any of us really understood how close they were. I didn’t realize it until this moment and throughout that night (when) you can see how close they were.”
Over the course of their rivalry, Federer and Nadal met 40 times, including nine Grand Slam finals, six of which were won by Nadal. After so many battles on the court, seeing both players cry was a dazzling sight, according to Ling.
“You have these two masculine men: They are male athletes who … would try not to show any emotion on the court, and you would rarely see much emotion off the court,” he says.
“For them to just be sitting there in the moment, crying uncontrollably, holding hands in front of 17,000 people there, and millions more on TV, and being so pure, so raw, so open about it is unbelievable.
“I think this will also do a lot of good for society by seeing that.”
For his part, Federer said the moment with Nadal was a “secret thank you” and that he hopes to snap up some of the Laver Cup photos.
“I think all the guys, Andy [Murray]Novak [Djokovic] and also Rafa, they saw their careers flash before their eyes, knowing that somehow we’ve all been on borrowed time long enough,” Federer said. The New York Times.
“As you get older, you get to your 30s, you start to know what you really appreciate in life but also in sports.”
“You almost forgot they’re still taking pictures of you…because obviously I couldn’t speak and the music was there, I guess I just played it,” Federer added.
Ling says he was in a good position to take the photo of Federer and Nadal, out of the way of television cameras that prevented other photographers from capturing the shot. She hopes it can long be remembered as one of the most iconic photos in tennis and sport in general.
“That’s the beauty of photography,” says Ling, “You capture these moments and they are there forever.”