‘Sad day for tennis’: is this the end of Roger Federer’s glittering career?

40-year-old Swiss maestro will have a third operation on his right knee  

Roger Federer won Wimbledon eight times
Roger Federer waves to the crowd after losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals
(Image credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

It was a “sad day for tennis” after Roger Federer announced he would be undergoing further surgery on his right knee, the New York Post reports. The “Swiss maestro”, who turned 40 this month, will miss the US Open grand slam and there is “no assurance when, or even if, he’ll make his return”.

The 20-time grand slam champion had two knee operations last year and suffered a setback after his run to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon. Forced to miss the Tokyo Olympics, Federer said in an Instagram video on Sunday that the surgery will leave him on crutches for “many weeks” and out of the game for “many months”.

After losing to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer said he was unsure whether he would play at SW19 again, the BBC reported. He had two operations on his right knee after the Australian Open last year, before returning to the tour in Doha in March.

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“It’s going to be difficult in some ways but, at the same time, I know it’s the right thing to do because I want to be healthy, I want to be running around later as well again,” he said. “I also want to give myself a glimmer of hope to return to the tour in some shape or form.”

Tied with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slams, many observers still regard Federer as the most artistic player of all time, the New York Post says. A “gentleman and the sport’s top ambassador”, Federer may not want to hang on if he feels he can’t pull off another slam title.

“We hope that he’s able to play as long as he wants to play,’’ John McEnroe told the paper before Wimbledon. “He’s sort of like our Tom Brady. You look at these older guys, they’re inspiring people like Roger certainly.’’

Time is running out

The latest knee operation means “it is time to question whether he will play tennis on tour again”, says Christopher Clarey of The New York Times. For now Federer does not intend to retire, but he is well aware that the odds are heavily against him.

“He is an optimist, no doubt, long inclined to see the water bottle as half full,” Clarey said. “He has been successfully fending off retirement (and retirement questions) for more than a decade, but even he looked and sounded glum on Sunday as he described his situation in a post on Instagram, a medium that did not exist when he began playing Grand Slam tournaments in the late 1990s.”

“Time is running out” for the tennis great and another operation “appears to signal” that his career will soon be ending, says Eurosport’s James Walker-Roberts. Federer has “always appeared positive” but in his video message “there was also a hint that he had been told by doctors that this operation is not just for the benefit of his tennis career, but life beyond that”.

Federer, who has played in only five tournaments this year, admits that the rehab process will be tough. “I am realistic - I know how difficult it is at this age right now to do another surgery and try it,” he said. “But I want to be healthy. I will go through the rehab process with a goal, while I’m still active, which I think is going to help me during this long period of time.”

‘He’s done it all’

Federer’s heartbreaking announcement has left the tennis world “shattered”, Yahoo reports. And many fans are convinced more than ever that the 40-year-old’s retirement is imminent.

Sports Illustrated tennis reporter Jon Wertheim tweeted: “We know time moves only in one direction. We all know Father Time’s record in head-to-heads ... still, there’s there’s something deeply sad about watching an elite athlete lose agency like this.”

BBC commentator David Law added: “May well be that that’s it for Roger Federer. He can and should take as long as he wants to seek a solution, and decide. But at this stage, mainly hope he can get his knee back to a state in which he can enjoy life, and perhaps a farewell exhibition tour. He’s done it all.”

Since turning pro in 1998, Federer has won 103 singles titles, including the 20 slams. In July, Sportico reported that he had joined Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the “ten-figure club” by becoming just the sixth athlete - and first tennis player - to rack up $1bn (£721m) in career earnings.

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