NEW YORK – Roger Federer, regarded by many as the greatest male player to wield a tennis racket and who took the sport to new levels during a career spanning over two decades, has announced he will retire after next week’s Laver Cup in London.
The 41-year-old, who won 20 Grand Slam singles titles and redefined a sport with his artistry and grace, broke the news tennis fans across the world have feared in a lengthy statement on Thursday.
A knee injury meant he has not played a match since losing at last year’s Wimbledon although many still believed he could come back for one last golden farewell.
But he said his age had finally caught up with him.
“As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries,” Federer said, in an emotional statement posted on Instagram.
“I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. 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 have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognise when it’s time to end my competitive career.
“The Laver Cup next week in London will be my final ATP event. I will play more tennis in the future, of course, but just not in Grand Slams or on the tour.”
Federer is behind only Spain's Rafael Nadal (22) and Serbia's Novak Djokovic (21), on the list of most men’s singles Grand Slams.
The Swiss, who dominated men’s tennis for several years after winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, has been troubled by injuries in recent years.
He has undergone three knee operations in the last two years and his last competitive match was a quarter-final defeat by Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz at last year's Wimbledon.
Federer had offered some hope to his legions of fans when he said he planned to return to the tour after teaming up with long-time rival and friend Rafael Nadal to play doubles at the Sept 23-25 Laver Cup in London.
He had also planned to play at the Swiss indoors tournament in his home town of Basel.
“This is a bittersweet decision, because I will miss everything the tour has given me,” Federer, who has two sets of twins with wife Mirka, added.
“But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth.
“I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.”
Federer first served notice of his special talent when he beat American great Pete Sampras on his way to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2001.
Two years later he outclassed Mark Philippoussis on Wimbledon’s Centre Court to begin his Grand Slam collection.
Federer went on to win seven more Wimbledon titles, claimed five US Open titles, six Australian crowns and a single French Open achieved in 2009 to complete his career Slam.
He also holds the record for 237 consecutive weeks as world No. 1 and the only omission from his glittering CV is an Olympic singles gold medal, losing to Andy Murray in the 2012 final.
The Swiss’ peers have begun to react to the announcement, with Spanish former world No. 3 David Ferrer calling it “the saddest day in tennis”.
Former US Open champion Andy Roddick, who lost to Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final, said: “Cheers Roger. Thanks for the shared memories my friend. It was an honour to share time/experiences on the most hallowed grounds in our sport.
“Don’t be a stranger. Also, seems like a good time to start training for Wimby (Obviously kidding).”
Fellow former US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro added: “The tennis world will never be the same without you.”
In his message, Federer also thanked his family, his support team and fans, while he did not forget to express his gratitude to all the opponents he had faced throughout the years.
He said: “I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget. We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game.
“I feel extremely grateful. We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels.”
No one pushed him more than Nadal, who said: “I wish this day would have never come. It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports around the world. It’s been a pleasure but also an honour and privilege to share all these years with you.”
Former world No. 8 John Isner hailed the Swiss as an “absolute living legend”, adding: “Some of Fed’s numbers are laughably impossible to top... but his impact on tennis far exceeds what he accomplished on court.” REUTERS, AFP