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Roger Federer, the elegant and enduring Swiss star who dominated men's tennis for two decades but saw his more recent years marred by injuries and surgeries, said Thursday that he was retiring from the sport.
"I am 41 years old, I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years," Federer said in an audio clip posted on social media. "Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamed and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career."
Federer, the winner of 20 Grand Slam singles titles, said his appearance at next week's Laver Cup in London would be his final competitive matches. He said he would continue to play tennis in the future, but that he would no longer compete on the ATP Tour or in Grand Slam tournaments like Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that he once dominated.
"The past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries," he said in a video on Twitter. "I've worked hard to return to full competitive form, but I also know my body's capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear."
Federer leaves the game with one of the greatest competitive records in the game's history: 103 ATP singles titles, 20 Grand Slam championships, a record eight men's singles titles at Wimbledon and a record-tying five at the U.S. Open.
Much of Federer's career has been defined by his rivalries with the two other players at the top of men's tennis, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Federer is the eldest of the trio.
His decision to step away from the game comes after a similar one by Serena Williams, who announced before this year's U.S. Open that she would wind down her playing career. But unlike Williams, who said she was "evolving" away from competitive tennis and has left the door slightly ajar to a "Tom Brady" style return, Federer was more definitive.
"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 said. "I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on earth. I was given a special talent to play tennis and did it at a level I never imagined for much longer than I ever thought possible."
Federer, the son of a Swiss father and South African mother, was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1981. He spent his early years playing many different sports and was considered a particularly promising soccer player. But he definitively chose tennis after beginning to work with the Australian player Peter Carter, who began teaching at the Basel tennis club Old Boys to supplement his income as an aspiring tour-level player.
Carter eventually chose coaching full-time, and he and Federer formed a special bond as he helped the youngster develop his flowing, elegant game, including his often-airborne forehand and his versatile and sweeping one-handed backhand.
Unlike many great tennis champions, Federer did not leave his home country early in his youth to train in an academy in Florida or Spain, but he did leave his comfort zone at age 14, moving from Basel to Ecublens, Switzerland, to board and train at the Swiss national training center in the French-speaking part of the country.
Federer was mocked by his peers for his poor French and struggled in school, but he considered the experience — and the challenge — one of the keys to his eventual success.
Federer was considered a phenomenally talented prospect in Swiss tennis circles, but his potential became clear to a wider audience at 16 when he won the boys singles title at Wimbledon, receiving the trophy during a ceremony on Centre Court, the court that would come to mean the most to him over the years.
His first professional breakthrough at Wimbledon came in 2001 when he upset Pete Sampras, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, in a classic five-setter in the fourth round. But Federer did not soar straight to the top. He struggled with his nerves and tactics in the majors and had to deal with the tragedy of Carter's death in an automobile accident in South Africa in 2002 on his honeymoon: a trip he had made at the urging of the Federer family.
Federer, who had reconnected with Carter and helped bring him on as Switzerland's Davis Cup coach, was devastated but channeled his grief into making it clear that he wanted to honor Carter's memory by trying to be the champion that Carter believed he could be.
Those who know Federer well saw a significant change in him. The following year, in 2003, he won his first major singles title at Wimbledon, displaying all the tools on his Swiss army knife of a game: pleasing the crowd and dismantling the opposition. He defeated Andy Roddick, another rising talent from the United States, in the semifinals and Mark Philippoussis of Australia in the final.
Though Roddick would go on to win the U.S. Open in September and rise briefly to No. 1 in the world, this would be Federer's era. He went on to win the Australian Open to start the 2004 season, claimed the top spot in the rankings and hit cruising speed.
He won three Grand Slam singles titles each year in 2004, 2006 and 2007. His only major stumbling block remained the French Open, and it looked likely to remain so with the emergence of Nadal, nearly five years younger than Federer and practically untouchable on the red clay of Roland Garros.
Nadal eventually reeled Federer in on grass as well, defeating him in the 2008 Wimbledon final, widely considered one of the greatest matches in the sport's history, and in the 2009 Australian Open final, where he comforted a crying Federer at the awards ceremony.
Federer would bounce back, winning his first and only French Open in 2009 and reclaiming the Wimbledon title four weeks later by defeating Roddick in a five-set marathon that allowed Federer to break Sampras's men's record of 14 Grand Slam singles title.
Federer's twin daughters were born shortly after that Wimbledon victory, but Federer and his wife Mirka soon hit the road (in a private plane) and returned to the circuit. It was a sign of their mutual commitment to Federer's career and their mutual love of the game and its global nature.
Federer called Mirka "my rock" and her support — and logistical wizardry — were fundamental to his surprising longevity. Though he began fielding retirement questions after his French Open victory in 2009, he played on for more than a decade, often with great success despite the continued rise of Nadal and the emergence of Djokovic, another phenomenal talent.
"I would like to especially thank my amazing wife Mirka who has lived through every minute with me," Federer said in his retirement announcement on Thursday. "She has warmed me up before finals, watched countless matches even while over 8 months pregnant and has endured my goofy side on the road with my team for over 20 years."