The remarkable career of Roger Federer comes to an end with his retirement announcement: a short history of all-time greatness


Roger Federer has announced that he will retire after the Laver Cup next week in London. He said, “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 is time to end my competitive career”

The last few years of Federer’s career have been marred by a series of injuries, as he underwent two knee surgeries in 2020 and another after he was defeated by Hubert Hurkacz in the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinal.

While Federer says his body has had enough, legions of his fans around the world are overcome by an irrational desire to see him continue to compete indefinitely. Federer has epitomised not only tennis, but what it means to be a tennis star. He is charming, graceful, well-spoken, and relentless. He has inspired cultish devotion to himself and his brand by refusing to give up, and by performing at unheard-of levels of skill.

Funny, hardworking, passionate and confident. That was Federer in his prime. He was also technically brilliant, making impossible shots look like a stroll in the park.

A list of achievements that almost does not end

Federer won an almost impossible number of grand slams in an era of fierce competition. He was the first person to win 20 grand slam titles and has held the world number 1 spot in ATP rankings for more time than any other player barring Novak Djokovic.

Federer has also been in 31 major finals (one less than Djokovic), including a record 10 in a row.

He has been voted by his peers to receive the Sportsmanship Award a record 13 times, and has won the ATP Fan’s Favourite 17 years consecutively. He has been named the ATP Player of the Year and ITF World Champion five times, and has won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record five times, including four consecutive awards from 2005 to 2008. He is also the only person to win the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award four times.

Federer spent 310 weeks as world number one, with 237 of them held consecutively.

He played all the greats of his age and the ones preceding it, having gone head to head with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, and Djokovic. Despite playing alongside some of the greatest players of all time, Federer has broken multiple records, including becoming the oldest ever world No. 1 at age 36.

He has won the Australian Open six times, the French Open once, the US Open five times, and Wimbledon, the tournament with which he is synonymous and where he won his first grand slam, a record eight times.

Federer became world No. 1 in 2004 and remained in that position until 2008 — a period that he dominated like never seen before in the Open Era. He won three grand slam titles each in 2004, 2006, and 2007, and at least one in all other years until his reign ended. He was indisputably the best player in the world, and his seasons as world No. 1 were among the most dominant in history.

Although he has been considered among the most complete of players, his relationship with clay has not been easy. Nadal prevented Federer from winning at Roland Garros even during his prime, and it was only when the Spaniard succumbed in the early rounds that Federer was able to capture his lone French Open title.

In doing so, he became widely considered the greatest player ever, having won slams in all four arenas and matching Sampras’ grand slam record in the process. Federer’s achievements also include reaching 23 consecutive semifinals.

Through his long reign, Federer had to discover new ways to address opponents, some of whom like Nadal and Djokovic, relied more on the physical aspects of the game that Federer often struggled with. Despite this, in 2001 he ended Sampras’s 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon. He also defeated Layton Hewitt in straight sets when the latter was presumed to be at the peak of his powers. And in one of his most memorable matches, Federer defeated Roddick during the 2009 Wimbledon final, a match that lasted well over 4 hours.

Part of some of the greatest rivalries in sport

Federer’s long career coincided with those of 22-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal and 21-time grand slam winner Novak Djokovic, with whom he dominated men’s tennis for the last two decades.

Federer’s 35 matches with Djokovic during the 2010s decade is the most he has played against any opponent. And the Swiss maestro’s 22 defeats, 12 of them in tournament finals, is also the most he has lost to any player during this decade.

One of only six players with a winning head-to-head record against Federer during the decade that was 2010 to 2019, Nadal’s 11 wins is the second-highest tally of defeats Federer has endured against any player during this decade.

About $130 million of Federer’s earnings have come from official prize money, a figure that puts him second on the all-time list in tennis to Djokovic’s $152 million.

The rest has come through sponsorships, endorsements, and appearance fees at tournaments and exhibition events around the world.

Federer’s estimated net worth is over $450 million. Nike, one of his many sponsors, paid him $12 million a year for a decade. This far surpasses his Wimbledon rival, Nadal, who earned $50 million over five years for sporting the swoosh logo.

“When you are Swiss, you represent a small country,” said Régis Brunet, Federer’s first agent. “If you want to make serious money, being No.10 in the world does not suffice.”

Federer’s road to global glory

Born in Basel, Switzerland, on August 8, 1981, Federer showed an early interest in sport, playing both football and tennis before deciding to focus his efforts towards the latter.

By 14, the teen was competing in two or three tournaments a month. The young Federer practised six hours a week with up to three hours of conditioning, imitating his idols Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg.

As a teen junior national champion, Federer trained at the Swiss National Tennis Center in Ecublens, Switzerland. He quickly joined the junior tennis circuit in July 1996.

The definitive start to his career came in 2001. In the Wimbledon tournament of that year, the 19-year-old, unknown Federer faced seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras. Sampras had lost only a single match at Wimbledon since 1993, that too against the defending champion. The young man from Basel won the match in a five-set thriller.

Sampras would later give the equivalent of an official blessing to his young opponent. “There are a lot of good players coming up, and Roger is one of them,” he said. “But I think he is a little more extra special than the other guys.”

The legacy that Federer leaves

Imagine you had to pick a player for a match to save your life — only you didn’t know the surface and the racquets. That man would surely be Federer given he is the only player to win at least 10 titles on three different surfaces.

Federer is undoubtedly the greatest player on turf, having not only won more grass-court titles, 19, than anyone else but more also than Sampras (10) and John McEnroe (eight) combined.

Federer’s quality is also evident from his longevity. He won Wimbledon in 2003 and then the Australian Open in 2018, at the age of 36. To put that in perspective, Sampras won his last slam at 31, Rod Laver at 31, and Agassi at 32.

For most though, Federer’s remarkable achievements stretch far further than numbers. It is seen in his grace of movement, and the way he makes the sublime look normal.

Roger Federer is an icon in sports. The best there is, possibly the best there was and, some might say, the best there ever will be.