Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt all offered words of praise Wednesday for tennis great Juan Carlos Ferrero, whose singles career came to an end with a loss at the Valencia Open to good friend Nicolas Almagro.

Murray, the world No. 3 and winner of this year's U.S. Open, congratulated the 32-year-old Ferrero - winner of the 2003 French Open - on his "incredible career," adding that the Spaniard had always been "incredibly nice" to him when he came from Scotland to train in Spain as a teenager.

Djokovic, the Serbian world No. 2, said that Ferrero was a great player and that tennis "will definitely miss you."

The 31-year-old Federer, whom Ferrero described as the greatest player he had ever competed against, said he had known the Spaniard since they were juniors and that he was a "great player" and that the two had faced off in some "amazing matches" during their careers.

Federer, who recently became the first player to hold the No. 1 ranking for 300 weeks, first obtained the top spot after defeating Ferrero in the semifinals of the 2004 Australian Open.

Hewitt, who accepted the Valencia Open's final special invitation, said it was a privilege to be on hand for the retirement ceremony and that the Spaniard had been one of his greatest rivals.

The Australian recalled the big matches they had played in Grand Slam tournaments, the Davis Cup and the 2002 year-end championship event.

Nadal, who is still recovering from a knee injury that has kept him out of action for months, said being in Valencia for Ferrero's final match was not a cause for celebration.

"Saying good-bye to one of this country's greatest players is tough. I'm thankful for all the moments we shared together," the 11-time Grand Slam champion said.

Ferrero, who had announced earlier this year that the Valencia Open would be the last tournament of his career, lost in the first round of that hard-court event 7-5, 6-3 to Almagro on Tuesday.

Despite the loss in singles, Ferrero is still alive in the doubles draw after he and partner David Ferrer edged Carlos Berlocq and Alexandr Dolgopolov 3-6, 6-3, 10-7 on Wednesday.

Ferrero was one of the world's best players from 2000 to 2003 but injuries began to hinder his performance starting in 2004.

The Spaniard enjoyed most of his success on clay, reaching the French Open semifinals four years in a row and finally winning the title in 2003.

He also led Spain to its first-ever Davis Cup title in 2000, winning both of his singles matches in the final - played on clay in Barcelona - and clinching the victory with a four-set win over Hewitt.

Ferrero, however, also had considerable success on hard courts, reaching the 2003 U.S. Open final and losing to Hewitt in the final of the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup.

The Spaniard won 15 singles titles during his career and also briefly held the No. 1 ranking in the fall of 2003. EFE