When Pete Sampras retired in 2003, having won his 14th grand slam title at the US Open the previous year in what turned out to be his last ever match, it seemed a record that would never be beaten.

Twenty years on, Roger Federer retires from professional tennis with 20 grand slam titles to his name (two fewer than Rafael Nadal and one shy of Novak Djokovic), more than 100 tournament wins worldwide and safe in the knowledge that he has changed the game.

At 41, his right knee has not recovered well enough from surgery to allow him to continue on the ATP Tour. But even as he prepared to play his last ever match last night – alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles – Federer said he can see more players matching or even surpassing Nadal, Djokovic and himself in the future.

“I do believe more than ever you can dominate through all the surfaces, that’s for sure, because they all play the same,” Federer told a small group of reporters at the O2.

“There is not the serve-and-volley dangerous guys anymore on quick surfaces. Everything’s slow nowadays. Indoors is not what it used to be. It wasn’t like this type of surface [wood], where it was like lightning.

“So that’s why I think there will be more players in the future with I’d say five-plus Slams. Because once you get on a roll, you can stay on a roll. I do believe at some point, somehow, there will be definitely a few players with 20-plus Slams. I’m convinced about that.”

The stunning victory by Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open earlier this month gave the 19-year-old Spaniard a first Grand Slam and took him to the world No 1 ranking.

Many observers feel that Alcaraz could be the best of the next generation, the teenager coached by former world No 1 Carlos Ferrero seemingly equipped to win on any surface.

Federer said it would be unfair to single out any one player and said until a player wins a handful of slams, it’s not even worth talking about records.

“You don’t want to have that price tag, [saying] you’re the one who’s going to win 20-plus, Federer has said so,” he said. “So I think that’s not fair because nobody can predict that type of number.

“Once you reach maybe five, seven, you can say like: ‘OK, now we can start talking’. But we never talked about 20 with me. We always talked about maybe you could reach 15. It just starts to increase more and more.”

Federer announced the decision to retire last week, having made his mind up a while ago. In truth, he has battled knee injuries for several years and he is at peace with his decision, as sad as it also is.

“I mean, you deal with it,” he said, looking back at 2020, when he required surgery on his right knee for the first time.

“It is what it is. You wish it wasn’t so. If I look back at it, I had a tough Australian Open (in 2020) and then played a Match for Africa in Cape Town which was wonderful.

“When I came back I was so unhappy with my knee and I had been unhappy with my knee for several years. So maybe doing that surgery, maybe I shouldn’t have in hindsight. But then if I think maybe what could have happened is I would have played and then it would have exploded at some moment, which would have been way worse. Who knows?

“Because I’d had a good experience with my left knee surgery (in 2016, after which he won three more Grand Slams), I figured like: ‘OK, my right is a very similar surgery. We’ll do that and maybe I’ll get another chance.’

“Look, it wasn’t to be and then obviously the last three years have been pretty tough in terms of those things. Rehab was easy, I liked it. Honestly this more calm life, going through it, you know daily progress is small, but it’s daily and it’s a good feeling, too. I want to be healthy for life. So it was definitely worth it.”