Roger Federer announced Thursday that he is retiring from professional tennis at age 41 after winning 20 Grand Slam titles. This decision comes just days after the end of the U.S. Open, which is expected to be the last tournament of 23-time major champion Serena Williams’ career, and signals the real end of an era in tennis.
Federer has not competed since Wimbledon in July 2021 – he has had a series of knee operations – and so in that sense, the news is not surprising.
Federer posted what he called a “bittersweet decision” via social media on Thursday, less than a week after 23-time major champion Serena Williams played what is expected to the last match of her career.
Combined, the exits by two of the greatest athletes in their sport’s history represent a significant turning of the page. “As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form,” Federer wrote on Twitter. “But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.”
Federer has not competed since Wimbledon in July 2021, and so, in that sense, his news is not all that surprising. But he had appeared at an event marking the 100-year anniversary of Centre Court at the All England Club this July and said he hoped to come back to play there “one more time.” He also had said he would return to tournament action in his home country at the Swiss Indoors in October.
In Thursday’s announcement, Federer said his farewell event will be the Laver Cup in London next week. That is a team event run by his management company. Federer is married and he and his wife, Mirka – a tennis player, too; they met as athletes at an Olympics – have two sets of twins.
He leaves with a total of 103 tour-level titles on his substantial resume and 1,251 wins in singles matches, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era, which began in 1968. Federer’s records include being the oldest No. 1 in ATP rankings history – he returned to the top spot at 36 in 2018 – and most consecutive weeks there (his total weeks mark was eclipsed by Djokovic).
When Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, the men’s record for most was held by Pete Sampras, who had won his 14th at the U.S. Open the year before in what turned out to be the last match of the American’s career.
Federer would go on to blow way past that, ending up with 20 by winning eight championships at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the U.S. Open and one at the French Open. His 2009 trophy at Roland Garros allowed Federer to complete a career Grand Slam.
His serving, forehand, footwork and attacking style will all be remembered. Also unforgettable were his matches against younger rivals Nadal, 36, and Djokovic, 35, who both equalled, then surpassed, Federer’s Slam total and are still winning titles at the sport’s four biggest tournaments. Nadal now leads the count with 22, one ahead of Djokovic. “I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget,” Federer said in Thursday’s announcement.
Addressing his “competitors on the court” – although not by name – he wrote: “We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels.” Federer’s last match anywhere came on July 7, 2021, when he lost at Centre Court in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0.
Soon after, Federer had surgery to repair damage to his meniscus and cartilage in his right knee – his third operation on that knee in a span of 1 1/2 years. “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt,” Federer said Thursday, “and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”