‘Sad’ Nadal leads tributes for retiring Federer

The tennis world has sent love to Roger Federer after the legend of the sport called time on his professional tennis at age 41 after a series of knee operations.

Federer closes a career in which he won 20 grand slam titles, finished five seasons ranked No.1 and helped create a golden era of men’s tennis with rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

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Federer posted what he called a “bittersweet decision” via both a written statement and an audio clip, less than two weeks after 23-time major champion Serena Williams played what is expected to be 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.

The decision sparked a massive response from former rivals and fellow tennis greats from the around the world.

Arguably his most formidable opponent, Rafael Nadal said: “I wish this day would have never come,” Nadal said. “It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports people around the world. I said it to you when we spoke and now it’s here. It’s been a pleasure but also an honor and privilege to share all these years with you, living so many amazing moments on and off the court.”

Billie Jean King, a 12-time major champion wrote: “Roger Federer is a champion’s champion. He has the most complete game of his generation & captured the hearts of sports fans around the world with an amazing quickness on the court & a powerful tennis mind. He has had a historic career w/memories that will live on and on.”

Rod Laver, who won 11 Grand Slam titles: “Thank you for everything Roger. See you soon. Rocket.”

Martina Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon champion with 22 majors overall. wrote: “What a heartfelt message, full of love, life, hope, passion and gratitude. Which is exactly how Roger played the game we love so much. Thank you thank you thank you, for all the magic!!!”

Carlos Alcaraz, the top-ranked Spaniard who won the US Open last week, posted: “Roger has been one of my idols and a source of inspiration! Thank you for everything you have done for our sport! I still want to play with you !Wish you all the luck in the world for what comes next!”

Andy Roddick, a former No.1 who lost to Federer 16-14 in the fifth set of the 2009 Wimbledon final: “Cheers Roger. Thanks for the shared memories my friend. It was an honor to share time/experiences on the most hallowed grounds in our sport. Don’t be a stranger.”

Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic: “Roger – you have always been such a huge inspiration to me. Your elegance, your grace, your beautiful game. I have always held you in the highest regard and want to congratulate you for an amazing career. Tennis won’t be the same without you!”

Milos Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up from Canada: “Thank you for doing more for tennis than any single individual. Thanks to you competitors and fans across the world get to experience and enjoy it all over the world. Congratulations on your achievements and the people you continue to impact in and away from tennis.”

Juan Martín del Potro, who beat Federer in the 2009 US Open final for his only major title.

“I LOVE YOU, Roger. Thank you for everything you’ve done in tennis and with myself. Tennis world will never be the same without you.”

James Blake, a former player from the United States: “Roger, there was and never will be anyone like you. You crushed me on the court, but were so nice and genuine that I couldn’t hate you for it. You made the game better on and off the court and you will be missed. Good luck, you have earned all the success and joy in the world.”

Federer has not competed anywhere 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 Center Court at the All England Club this July and said he hoped to return 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.

“I knew a few weeks ago that his rehabilitation with his knee wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. A few weeks after Wimbledon, he informed me that the knee was not reacting as well as it should and that he was thinking about figuring out a way to end his career,” his agent Tony Godsick said.

“I had suggested to him years ago that he should stop. Not many tennis players at his level push into their 40s. But he was always interested in challenging himself,” Godsick said. “And at the end of the day, after 1,500-plus matches, the tires finally wore out. And he’s got things to do in his next stage.”

Federer and his wife, Mirka — a tennis player, too; they met as athletes at an Olympics — have two sets of twins, girls who are 13 and boys who are 8.

Federer leaves the sport 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).

The dominance Federer displayed at the height of his powers is unrivaled, including reaching 10 consecutive grand slam finals, winning eight, from 2005-07, a run that also extended to 18 of 19 major finals into 2010.

In a sport where changes in surface and other conditions can make even the best players thrilled with a showing here or there into the second week of a slam, Federer compiled streaks of 36 quarter finals in a row and 23 semi finals in a row from 2004 to 2013.

When Federer won his first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, the men’s record for most major trophies was held by Pete Sampras, who had won his 14th at the US 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 US 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 equaled, then surpassed, Federer’s Slam total and are still winning titles at the sport’s four biggest tournaments.

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