11:43 PM EDT, July 9, 2012
Sustained greatness a plus
Los Angeles Times
Roger Federer became the No. 1 tennis player in the world Monday, one of the consequences of his 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 Wimbledon victory over Andy Murray on Sunday.
He's also the best ever.
That's not an immediately easy conclusion to reach. Federer has lost to contemporary Rafael Nadal more than he has beaten the Spaniard; the career record is 18-10 in Nadal's favor. Nadal leads Federer 7-2 in meetings at Grand Slam tournaments.
But Federer's win over Murray gave him his 17th Grand Slam title, the most in history. It is a testament to Federer's sustained high level, his ability to stay healthy and to play the highest standard of tennis even as he approaches 31.
He's in the team picture
I hate comparing tennis greats from different eras because it's unfair due to racket and string technology as well as advanced physiological benefits. Still, Roger Federer's resurgence at almost 31 chisels his visage on the Mount Rushmore of Greatest of All Time.
The Swiss maestro not only tied Pete Sampras with his seventh Wimbledon crown Sunday, but also increased his all-time leading Grand Slam total to 17. He's No. 1 again to tie Pistol Pete's record 286 weeks on top.
Federer has the career Grand Slam, but Aussie legend Rod Laver (11 Grand Slams) swept all four majors in 1962 and '69 (at 31), while not being allowed to compete in 20 Grand Slams from 1963 to '67 in his prime because tournaments were closed to pros.
Losses to Nadal give pause
It's always dangerous to declare an athlete the best of all time. Comparing and contrasting eras is pure folly, so we can only gauge an athlete in the context of his or her generation.
Roger Federer, quite simply, has dominated his era. And his latest Wimbledon victory — his 17th Grand Slam title — only amplifies his greatness. He has done things players in this and every era have been unable to achieve, so Federer is clearly a player for the ages.
But is he the best ever? Well, he has lost 18 of 28 matches to rival Rafael Nadal. That gives us pause before calling him the best of all time.
But if he keeps winning Grand Slams, it might be hard to argue against him. For now, let's just say he's among the best to ever step on the court.
Resume outweighs Laver's
As much as I love Pete Sampras, the lack of not only a French Open title but even an appearance in a French final, rules him out of "Greatest of All Time" discussion and leaves the choice between Rod Laver and Roger Federer.
Would Laver dominate today with the use of the current technology and advances available to players? How would Federer have fared with a wood racket and more cumbersome travel?
It's hard to believe the demands on players were greater in Laver's day than they are for Federer. The fact he reached two incredible milestones while being on the wrong side of 30, as well as the impeccable way he handles himself on and off the court, tip the scales in his favor.
If his back holds up, 20 Grand Slam titles doesn't appear out of the question.
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