Swiss tennis great Roger Federer retires as player

Federer waves to the crowd following his final match last month. He is one of the greatest men’s tennis players of all time, totaling 20 Grand Slam victories over his career. // Photo courtesy of Julian Finney Getty Images for Laver Cup

On Sept. 23, Swiss great Roger Federer played the last professional tennis match of his historic career. For 24 years, Federer graced tennis courts, bringing joy to millions of fans around the world. Throughout his career, he played 1,526 singles matches, winning 1,251 of them, and claimed 103 Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) singles titles. He amassed 20 Grand Slam titles including a record eight Wimbledon titles, a record six ATP Tour year-end titles, 28 Masters 1000 titles and an Olympic

Gold Medal in doubles. He also spent 310 weeks as World No. 1 across two decades. 

Federer was born in 1981 in Basel, Switzerland to Swiss and South African parents. At a young age, he was a ball boy at the Swiss Indoors Open in his hometown of Basel. He then spent several years as an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior world champion, winning the Wimbledon Boys Singles and Doubles titles in 1998. His professional career also began in 1998 when he lost his ATP tour debut at Swiss Open in Gstaad before winning his first tour match at Toulouse later that year. He lost his first ATP final to fellow Swiss Marc Rosset at the Marseille Open in 2000. 

He would go on to win the Hopman Cup in January 2001, representing Switzerland with Martina Hingis. Later that same month, he won his first ATP tour title at Milan. He would go on to reach the French Open quarterfinals later that year, and at Wimbledon too, defeating seven-time champion Pete Sampras in five sets in the fourth round. In 2002, Federer won his first

Masters 1000 title at Hamburg and finished the year ranked No. 6 in the world. 

2003 saw Federer win his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and six other ATP singles titles. He finished the year ranked No. 2 after winning the year-end championships — the ATP tour finals. 2004-2007 is often considered Federer’s most dominant stretch and the peak of his career. He claimed 11 Grand Slam titles, finished each year ranked No. 1 and won 42 ATP singles titles. He also won a record 24 consecutive finals from the 2003 Vienna Open to the 2005 Thailand Open. He also spent a record 237 consecutive weeks as World No. 1 from 2004-2008. From 2003-2007, he won five consecutive Wimbledon titles and from 2004-2008, he won five consecutive US Open titles. 

In 2008, Federer won his lone Olympic Gold Medal in doubles with compatriot Stan Wawrinka. His 2008 Wimbledon final loss to rival Rafael Nadal is considered one of the greatest matches to ever be played. In 2009, he finally completed the Career Grand Slam, winning his only French Open title, and would go on to break Pete Sampras’ all-time record for men’s singles Grand Slam titles won, which stood at 14, by winning his sixth Wimbledon title. He ended the year as World No. 1 for a fifth time. In 2010, Federer won his 16th Grand Slam at the Australian Open. He would not win another Grand Slam until Wimbledon in 2012. Between 2013-15, he would reach another three Grand Slam finals but struggled to match his peak. 

The end of his career was plagued by injury struggles. In early 2016, he tore his meniscus, setting off a string of struggles with knee injuries as he headed from his mid-30s to his early 40s. He would go on to miss his first Grand Slam in 17 years at the 2016 French Open. Following a Wimbledon semifinal loss, Federer took five months off of the tour to have knee surgery and prepare for the 2017 season. The 2017 season was a resurgence for Federer, which saw him end the year as No. 2 and win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles. Federer would go on to win his 20th and final Grand Slam at the 2018 Australian Open before losing his final Grand Slam championship match at Wimbledon 2019 in a heartbreaking five-setter. He would go on to play in only seven tournaments between 2020-2021. 

Throughout his career, Federer broke numerous records and redefined the meaning of dominance in men’s tennis. But Federer will be remembered for his mastery of the game of tennis. One of few players who could take the racquet out of his opponent’s hands, Federer’s game was defined by the ease with which he glided across the court and hit seemingly impossible shots. From his masterpiece of a one-handed backhand to his perfect forehand, Federer redefined the game of tennis — alongside his main rival Rafael Nadal — and brought in a new generation of fans to the sport. 

Federer garnered praise from both the legends of the sport and his rivals. Former World No. 1 and one of Federer’s chief rivals, Novak Djokovic, heaped great praise for Federer: “His impact on the game has been tremendous, the way he was playing, his style, effortless, just perfect for an eye of a tennis coach, player or just a tennis fan.” Nadal, his biggest rival, said at a press conference that “when Roger leaves the tour, yeah, an important part of my life is leaving too.” 

At the 2022 Laver Cup in London, Federer was able to say goodbye to the sport surrounded by his closest rivals, his friends and his family. He played his final match alongside rival and friend Rafael Nadal, representing Team Europe. After a valiant effort that included a stunning forehand that Federer hit through the netpost, he and Nadal fell 11-9 in the Laver Breaker to the Team World pairing of Americans Jack Sock and Francis Tiafoe. Seemingly on brand for Federer, he failed to convert on match point at 9-8 in the tiebreaker, something he had done an astonishing 23 times throughout his career. 

The match saw many more fun moments between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic (collectively referred to as the Big Three) who are considered the three greatest men’s tennis players of all time. One of the most emotional points that night saw both Federer and Nadal crying side-by-side, with Djokovic also breaking down at one point. In the days after, many tennis fans have taken to Twitter and Instagram to claim how this was one of the greatest moments — not just in tennis but in sports as a whole. Seeing Federer’s chief rivals praise him and shed tears for his retirement is rare in sports and is a testament to the reverence that so many have for Federer and what he has done for the sport. 

Federer had one last on-court interview immediately after finishing the match. Hall of Famer Jim Courier interviewed Federer who struggled to hold back tears as he spoke. He paid tribute to his family including his wife, Mirka, saying she “allowed me to play when she could so easily have asked me to stop.” He said his experience leading up to the last match was “like a celebration.” Finally, he reflected on his career. 

“It’s what I wanted it to be, so thank you. It’s been a perfect journey, I’d do it all over again,” Federer said.

As the sun sets on an illustrious career, tennis fans can rest easy knowing that Federer does not plan to fully leave the sport. Federer closed his retirement statement, writing “Finally, to the game of tennis: I love you and will never leave you.”