Roger Federer, in my opinion, is the greatest tennis player this planet has ever produced (disclaimer: I have not yet checked out the tennis talent on Mercury or Jupiter). I’m the type of person who makes a conscious effort not to make that claim too quick and in all honesty, I’m still a little reluctant to make it because no one but tennis scholars can really be expected to make that claim an educated one. I never got to watch Rod Laver or Arthur Ashe, just barely got to watch Bjorn Borg and I don’t have a readily available archive of tennis matches to watch and compare.
From what I’ve seen, and I’ve been a tennis fan from a very early time in my childhood, Roger Federer is the best I’ve seen. He is not only a talented champion, but a gracious one. He says all the right things, but it’s not the usual athlete PR bullshit we usually get – he is genuine and possesses gravitas. When he cried after being denied his sixth-straight Wimbledon at the hands of his nemesis Rafael Nadal last year, you could not help but feel his pain.
Federer has just claimed his first French Open, the most difficult Grand Slam event to win. In doing so, he silences the misguided claims that Pete Sampras was the best ever. Pistol Pete never won at Roland-Garros and, quite frankly, was never close to being “The Greatest”. Sampras’ game was all about a booming serve which he could keep inside the lines with stunning frequency. His cheerleaders point to his excellent serve-and-volley game, but rushing the net and burying the return down your opponent’s throat after reducing him to a desperate stab at your serve doesn’t impress nor inspire me. He was American, which is the only reason he’s in this conversation.
By winning the French Open, Federer becomes only the sixth man to complete the tennis Grand Slam (Wimbledon, Australian, French and U.S. Opens). He ties Pete Sampras for most Majors (14). He was involved in arguably the best tennis match ever contested. Even Sampras concedes he’s the best ever, joined in the chorus by John McEnroe and other legends of the game.
As Mary Carillo said yesterday, it’s possible Rafael Nadal could be even better. Nadal, however, is starting to show the wear and tear that prevents very talented people to ascend to the title “Greatest Ever” (think Mario Lemieux).
For my money, Federer will hold that title for a long, long time.