Even Retirement Can’t Separate Cabal/Farah

  • Posted: Oct 04, 2023

Even Retirement Can’t Separate Cabal/Farah

Colombian duo met more than 30 years ago and have continued their lifelong friendship

The legacy of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah goes far beyond their results on court; the 345 doubles matches they won together on the ATP Tour, their 19 titles —including two Grand Slams— and becoming the World’s No. 1 duo in 2019. The biggest impact the Colombians have had was their commitment to working together in a discipline in which long partnerships are rare.

“The first time I met Sebas, we were five years old. We started playing in the same city. We grew up together and ended up experiencing a lot of things together,” explained Farah. “The only others with a similar backstory are the Bryan brothers. The difference being that we formed a brotherhood along the way and, thanks to hard work, a lack of ego between us, and not arguing over minutiae, we managed to have a successful partnership.”

It is a miracle that they ever crossed paths in the first place. Robert was born in Montreal, Canada, where his parents Patrick and Eva had settled after fleeing the Lebanese civil war. The fact that the Farah Makssoud family ended up in Cali, Colombia, was mainly due to a holiday they took in the late eighties. They ended up staying there, Patrick as a tennis coach and Eva as a teacher.

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It was in Cali where destiny brought Robert and Juan Sebastian together. They met at a local tournament for under-eights. They played on adjoining courts in the first round and both of them beat older players. “That’s when I realised the potential they both had,” remembers Patrick, who would eventually become coach to the two of them.

They soon found themselves on the opposite side of the net, at a tournament in the same city. Cabal made the most of his one-year age advantage over Robert. Not only did he win that match, but also every one they would play for some time to come. Robert used to cry after those defeats. “They were very tense matches, but they came through them and continued to be friends,” added Patrick. At twelve, around the time that saw Farah’s first victory between them, they played their first event as a duo. They turned heads from the start.

“I remember the first doubles match I played against them,” said Santiago Giraldo, former World No. 28. “It was in Medellin, in 1998. They easily beat my teammate and I. I remember Sebas hitting a ‘tweener’ winner against us that day. They were so good!”

As well as being greater than the sum of their parts on court, Cabal and Farah kept building on a friendship that proved immune to the perils of their rivalry in singles, the potential difficulties of living together in Bogota, and the distance when Robert accepted a scholarship to study at the University of Southern California, followed by over a decade of playing together on the ATP Tour.

Since making their debut on Tour as a duo, winning in the first round of Wimbledon in 2011, they have never been apart. Although they would both play the odd tournament with other partners, particularly when the other was injured, playing together was their priority ever since the idea came to them in 2009.

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That year, at the wedding of Colombian former tennis player Pablo Gonzalez, Cabal and Farah decided they would form what turned out to be one of the most stable partnerships in recent years on tour. It was Robert’s idea, he was a few months short of graduating from university and wanted another shot at turning professional.

In 2010, they began their journey together on the ITF Futures and ATP Challenger Tours. When their ranking was high enough to enter ATP Tour draws —largely thanks to a runners-up finish for Cabal at the 2011 French Open— they became practically inseparable. Their commitment to constant teamwork bore countless fruits, including the 2019 Wimbledon title.

“The most amazing moment of our careers was winning Wimbledon, thanks to that we became the No. 1. That was the proof that processes bear results,” reflected Cabal, and Farah backed him up: “You can’t win a Grand Slam from one day to the next. [Carlos] Alcaraz did it at 18 years of age, but we’re more mortal and it took us over 30. Thanks to God, we ended up winning another one.”

<a href=Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah win Wimbledon in 2019.” />
Juan Sebastian Cabal (left) and Robert Farah win Wimbledon in 2019. Credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Their second major title would come later that season, at the 2019 US Open. The fact that they reached at least the semi-finals at Grand Slams ten times is further indication of their consistency at the largest events of all. They also won two ATP Masters 1000 (Rome 2018 and 2019) and reached the semi-finals in two of their three Nitto ATP Finals participations.

The physical wear and tear of so much time fighting for the biggest prizes brought forward their retirement. They announced it in August, proud of the record they would leave behind. “We’ve completed our time and we’re content as we leave,” said Cabal, 37. “We’re leaving with huge gratitude for everything tennis gave us,” added Farah, 36. In the last US Open they played their final ATP Tour match (l. to Koolhof/Skupski in the second round).

Last week, they were set to play the Challenger event in Bogota as their last tournament. In the end, they were unable to participate, due to minor injuries, but the homages are flooding in, and they will continue to do so.

Although they have not written off a return to tennis in some form – such as coaching –, for now they are only thinking about resting with their families. It is highly probable that they will do so together. After all, their farewell to tennis does not mean goodbye to one another. “He hasn’t been a friend for some time, he’s family,” explained Cabal. “We’re only ending a professional journey.” Farah agreed: “Sebas is a brother to me. His children call me Uncle Rob. My daughter calls him uncle too. Our paths will be united for our whole lives.”

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