Fans and pundits kept having the eternal discussion: who is the greatest of all times?
Far from being subjective, as I am a hard-dying fan of Roger Federer, I will provide the reasons why he can be considered the best in history.
He has the perfect balance in between saying straightforward his opinions and being humble. His diplomatic approach makes him appreciated beyond the sport.
Asked if he considered himself the GOAT, he always denied and gave other names. But regardless, the legacy that he already has will live forever. The Swiss Maestro said:
Like Bjorn Borg, he only went to Australia once or twice because it was during the Christmas, and he was happy at home instead of travelling. I worked extremely hard to have a great career, and sometimes have chased records.
But you know, it’s hard to judge who is the best of all time, you see Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras.
There are so many players [who] did fabulous things, so I tried my best with my career. I didn’t expect myself playing maybe this well at this age. I’m happy with what I achieved, and hope I can keep going.
And he is right. All this great champions improved the Tennis world and grew the phenomenon. All of them brought their own philosophy and only made the others better. He wouldn’t be the champion that he is if he wouldn’t have been pushed to evolve by all the other big players.
Federer holds records that no one is. He has the most Grand Slams won, 19, winning all four 5 times or more, excluding Rolland Garros. There he was so many times defeated by the greatest of all times on clay, his biggest rival and friend, Rafa Nadal.
He holds the record of retaining the World number 1 spot for the longest period, 302 weeks.
He won the elite World Tour Finals, where the 8 players in the World compete, a record 6 times, winning more than 80% of those matches.
As there is no Masters on grass, he trails by 3 titles in this race against Nadal and Djokovic (both 30 titles).
He has won 95 titles in his illustrious career, on all surfaces.
But we have to look at the bigger picture. Not these great records alone make him the best. But the power to always adapt and come back stronger. His ego never stood in the way of his greatness.
For most of his career, Roger was a defensive base liner. His backhand was his weak spot and had issues in front of great returners.
But that changed when he turned to a bigger racket. His backhand became in recent years a sharp attacking weapon and that’s why Nadal found it hard to defeat him this year. Also, his serve became huge. Not only his first serve, but his second one is as well a lethal one.
But what he improved more is his attacking game. He is coming forward more than ever in the recent years, as he needs to shorten the points (because of his age). And it works for him. His volleys improved greatly.
He invented SABR (sneak attack by Roger), coming close to the net on the first serve of the opponent, surprising him.
He managed to reinvent himself over and over again.
Everybody was writing him off in 2013, when he had a poor year. He hide the fact that he had back issues and a blood disease (mononucleosis), the same illness that ended Sampras’ career.
The fact that he stayed injury free for most of his career is a record itself. His artistic style of play might of helped, as he never was a power player, like Nadal and most of the top players nowadays, which hit all the balls as hard as possible. That has to affect the joints, as it was proven with Nadal, suffering multiple serious injuries and surgeries (knees, back, wrist).
But he came back in the next 2 years, to prove everyone wrong.
The knee surgery suffered in 2016 could’ve meant the end for most of the players. Or at least the end of high performances. Forced to recover half a year, people wrote him off again.
But he took the Tennis World by storm, winning 7 titles this year, of which 2 Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon), 3 Masters (Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai) and two 500 points ones (Halle and Basel).
But the back issues are coming back to haunt him.
The way he managed his schedule this year proved his genius again.
2018 will bring back all the big absentees, the great champions that missed this year. Will he be able to remain on top? With the next generation pushing as well.
His longevity is a great point in the GOAT discussion as well, as he managed to stay relevant until the amazing age of 36. Agassi played until 36, but at that age he was just a shadow of what he was, struggling for form in his last years, finishing outside top 50.
When he was 30, Federer said that he plans to play at least 5 more years. I remember how people laughed, as he was declaring this after his 2013’s season. 6 years later, he is as relevant as ever and the Tennis World has a lot to gain as long as he stays in it.
The World number 1 is not the main goal anymore, as he has a reduced schedule, but he can still compete for the big titles.
For how many years can he compete at the summit of Tennis? He already started speaking about retirement. And it’s only natural. Regardless, it’s a privilege to still be able to admire him on the court.