Is Roger Federer still the best tennis player?
As Swiss tennis star Roger Federer turns 40 on Sunday, talk of his retirement, his legacy and his place among the tennis gods is on the rise. Is he the greatest player of all time? That’s up to you to determine in a poll, after reviewing the cases of the top five (male) contenders.
Few things thrill fans quite like debating who is the best of the best in a particular sport. Marciano or Ali? Comaneci or Biles? Pelé or Maradona – Messi or Ronaldo?
In many ways, it’s an absurd exercise: advances in nutrition and technology – and the general level of professionalism – make it impossible and insignificant to compare sprinter Jesse Owens (1913-1980) and Usain Bolt (born in 1986), or between Swiss ski legend Vreni Schneider (b. 1964) and Lindsey Vonn (b. 1984).
When it comes to tennis, comparisons between eras are particularly difficult. Until 1968 and the beginning of what is called the Open era, professionals were not allowed to participate in the four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, US Open) . There was also the abandonment of wooden racquets in the early 1980s (Yannick Noah was the last male player to win a Grand Slam title with a wooden racquet, in 1983).
But let’s try the comparison anyway. For me, the five players in the running for the title of greatest player of all time are, in alphabetical order, Björn Borg, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and Rafael Nadal. Yes, this list is obviously subjective – if you disagree, let me know below! Yes, how to define “the greatest”? The criterion that gets the most attention is the number of Grand Slam titles. I also took into account – to varying degrees – the weeks spent at the top of the world rankings, other records, the beauty of their game, their natural talent and their versatility.
Among his records (all records in this article refer to the Open era) are the best record of Grand Slam matches won (89.2%) and the nine Masters tournaments (82.8%). He also holds the best record of wins against the top ten in any tournament (71.3%). He holds the record for the number of consecutive matches won in a Grand Slam tournament (41 at Wimbledon) and the longest winning streak for all titles (ten) and all matches (49). Borg’s topspin groundstrokes and incredible physical form helped develop the style that dominates the game today. Who knows how many more titles he would have won if he hadn’t retired at 26?
Was Djokovic’s level of tennis in 2016 the highest ever? Ultimate Tennis Statistics thinks so.(which factors in the strength of opponents) puts it just ahead of the 1980 Model Borg. And for what it’s worth, it also tops its list of GOATsExternal link( Greatest of all Time ), just ahead of Federer. That said, he has never won a Grand Slam title without dropping a set, which Nadal has done four times and Federer twice. He is unloved by the public and some critics complain about his boring and robotic tennis. But thanks to his metronomic regularity, unparalleled agility and self-confidence, he is simply hard to beat. More Grand Slam titles – and violent tantrums – are to be expected.
Some skeptics say opponents in several of his previous Grand Slam finals were weaker than opponents faced by Djokovic and Nadal, against whom Federer has a negative head-to-head record. (Losing to Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2019 despite two match points on his own serve must haunt him.) However, there is no doubting his popularity, as he topped the fan favorites chart of the ATPTour.com every year since 2003. He has also won the Laureus World Sports of the Year five times – a record – and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award 13 times.
On the court, he is probably the most naturally gifted player there is, with a style that is graceful and fluid. He’s simply stunning to look at, and no one has such a track record. American writer and journalist David Foster Wallace wrote in 2006: “It’s the moments, watching the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops, the eyes bulge, and the sounds are emitted that bring the spouses of other rooms to see if you’re okay.”
So how did he do it? Laver was not tall (173cm), but he was strong, quick, adaptable and, like Federer, he could do anything: he could play a serve-and-volley game, but, when necessary, stay back and rely on aggressive groundstrokes. Laver was playing before my time and the few clips of him in action are disappointing compared to today’s game, which largely reflects the role played by more powerful racquets. That said, who am I to disagree with Federer, who saidExternal linkin 2017 that “Laver is the greatest player of all time”?
It is true that he has never won the ATP Finals (Federer has done so six times, Djokovic five), and some commentators have questioned his serve and volley, but his high-intensity groundstrokes topspin and his defensive qualities – not to mention his desire to win – make up for the perceived weaknesses. It might be power over beauty – her knees must be praying for her retirement – but it’s hard to deny that it’s very impressive. For what it’s worth, he’s also graceful in defeat, which can’t always be said of Federer. If I had to choose one player to play a game to save my life – and if I could choose the surface – it’s obvious: it would be Nadal on clay.
Alright, it’s up to you. Vote in this poll and defend your point of view in the debate!