Geneva (AFP) -
Roger Federer will retire following next week's Laver Cup after admitting his battles with a knee problem had forced him to call time on his historic tennis career.
Tributes poured in for the 41-year-old Swiss legend from rivals such as Rafael Nadal, while Serena Williams welcomed him to the 'retirement club'.
Federer, a winner of 20 Grand Slam titles and one of the best players of all time, has been out of action since a quarter-final loss at Wimbledon in 2021, after which he underwent his third knee surgery in 18 months.
'The Laver Cup next week in London will be my final ATP event,' Federer said in a statement on social media on Thursday.
'The last 24 years on tour have been an incredible adventure,' he wrote.
'While it sometimes feels like it went by in 24 hours, it has also been so deep and magical that it seems as if I have already lived a lifetime.'
Federer's knee problems restricted him to only three of the 11 Grand Slams staged since the start of 2020 and he said his body had effectively told him it was time to bring the curtain down.
'I've worked hard to return to full competitive form,' he wrote.
'But I also know my body's capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.
'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.'
- 'Perfectly done' -
Tennis has now lost two greats in quick succession, after the 40-year-old Williams bowed out following a third-round defeat at the US Open at the start of the month.
'I wanted to find the perfect way to say this, as you so eloquently put this game to rest -- perfectly done, just like your career,' Williams, who won 23 major titles, said in an Instagram post.
'I have always looked up to you and admired you. Our paths were always so similar, so much the same. You inspired countless millions and millions of people -- including me -- and we will never forget.'
Nadal, arguably Federer's greatest on-court rival, said it had been 'an honour' to face him.
The pair played 40 times, including nine Grand Slam finals, with Nadal holding a 24-16 winning record.
'It's a sad day for me personally and for sports around the world,' Nadal tweeted.
'It's been a pleasure but also an honour and privilege to share all these years with you, living so many amazing moments on and off the court.'
Wimbledon also paid Federer a handsome tribute in keeping with him being a men's record eight-time champion there.
'Roger, where do we begin?' tweeted Wimbledon.
'It's been a privilege to witness your journey and see you become a champion in every sense of the word.
'We will so miss the sight of you gracing our courts, but all we can say for now is thank you, for the memories and joy you have given to so many.'
Teenager Carlos Alcaraz, the up-and-coming man in tennis having won the US Open last Sunday to become the youngest-ever world number one, paid tribute with a broken heart emoji on Twitter.
- Goodbye to 'Big Four' -
Next week's Laver Cup team event in London promises to be an emotional final meeting of the 'Big Four' who dominated men's tennis over the past two decades.
Nadal, who holds the men's record for Grand Slam titles with 22; Novak Djokovic, who has won 21 major crowns; and two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray will all play together as part of Team Europe.
Federer paid tribute to them too.
'I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget,' he said.
'We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game.
'I feel extremely grateful. We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels.'
Federer had said in July he hoped to play one more Wimbledon. He departs with regrets but added he had lived a life that many would envy.
'This is a bittersweet decision because I will miss everything the tour has given me,' Federer said.
'But, at the same time, there is so much to celebrate.
'I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth.
'I was given a special talent to play tennis and I did it at a level that I never imagined for much longer than I ever thought possible.'
Federer won the last of his Slam titles at the 2018 Australian Open and last played in a major final at Wimbledon three years ago, losing to Djokovic despite holding two championship points.