Barely a week after Serena Williams played her final match (supposedly), another tennis all-time great is retiring. Roger Federer has announced in a letter shared through social media that he will end his career after a staggering 24 years and 20 Grand Slam titles.
“This is a bittersweet decision, because I will miss everything the tour has given me. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate,” he wrote. “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, 41, cites his recent bouts of injury as a factor in the decision. Over the last three years, he has dealt with significant knee problems, having three surgeries on his right knee between 2020 and 2021. He played sparingly during these years, missing Wimbledon this year for the first time since 1999, as well as the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Opens.
In a September 2021 interview with GQ, Federer spoke about listening to his body in order to know when it was time to retire, and the significant differences in rehab and recovery as a 40-year-old athlete vs. a 20-year-old one.
“I am not going to be the one that’s just going to stick around because I want to stick around,” he said. “You know, I still want to play exhibitions down the road and have fun and go to markets in places I’ve never been before. The fans mean a lot to me, but I do not want to abuse my body.”
Federer won the second most tour singles titles of any men’s player in the Open Era with 103 (Jimmy Connors had 109), as well as the second most matches overall. His 20 Grand Slam titles, the last of which came at the Australian Open in 2018, rank third behind his eternal rivals Rafael Nadal (22) and Novak Djokovic (21).
He emerged on the international scene in the early 2000s, besting Pete Sampras in a stunning 2001 Wimbledon upset, before winning his first Grand Slam at the same tournament in 2003. From there, he became the sport’s most revered superstar both on and off the court–where he racked up huge endorsement earnings–renowned for his graceful play and dignified demeanor. In a 2006 New York Times article titled “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” the late writer David Foster Wallace coined the term “Federer Moments,” describing times when the Swiss athlete made stunning, seemingly impossible plays on the court.
“A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height,” Wallace wrote.
In his letter, Federer makes a point of thanking his wife and four children, his coaches, and the athletes he played against. “I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget,” he wrote. “We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game.”
Federer’s last event will be the Laver Cup, where he is slated to team up with friend and rival Nadal for Team Europe. The retirement of legendary players like Federer and Williams embodies a generational shift in tennis, something that was keenly felt in the 2022 U.S. Open, when 21-year-old Iga Świątek and 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz took home the singles titles.