Let’s not be so quick to crown Roger the Greatest

June 9, 2009

federerlaverAny debate about the greatest player of all time in a given event is naturally laden with ‘what ifs’.

Roger Federer’s tearful victory in the French Open final on Sunday prompted an undignified queue of pundits and former players to conclude that the elegant Swiss was undoubtedly the best tennis had ever seen. But what if…

What if Rod Laver hadn’t been in professional exile in the years before 1968?

What if Rafa Nadal hadn’t come along and had the temerity to stop Federer winning everything in sight?

What if Bjorn Borg hadn’t retired at 26?

What if Pete Sampras had truly applied himself to winning at Roland Garros?

What if my PE teacher hadn’t grabbed the racket from my hand said ‘stick to your swotty stuff’?

I jest of course but looking at the surfaces Federer has won on and the ever-increasing strength of the men’s game it is hard to argue against his position on the podium summit.

Or is it?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I rolled my eyes when my father reminisced about the Australian great Rod Laver. But he had a point.

The Rockhampton Rocket won 11 grand slam singles titles — three fewer than Federer — despite being unable to play in any of the majors for a six-year period when, at the peak of his game, he played on the professional circuit.

Laver, who won unique calendar slams in 1962 and 1969 either side of his amateur exile, like Federer was grace and power personified off both wings, foxing his opponents with devilish topspin and a  canny knack of retrieving the irretrievable.

Now you might say that when the rain is pouring at Wimbledon and they show Pancho Gonzalez play Charlie Pasarell in that epic 1969 match, the tennis looks about as high quality as the limp-wristed efforts my PE teacher palpably failed to see through.

But “You can only beat your own competition” as Tim Henman said to Reuters in an interview last week and as such I stand by Laver being the best there’s ever been.

Much as I respect Federer, it’s hard to give him the moniker as the best when he has such a poor career record against Nadal, and even a losing record against Andy Murray. Laver beat all his rivals, on every surface. Period.

Let the dust settle on Federer’s career first before he is put ahead of the game’s ultimate behemoth.

PHOTO: Roger Federer hugs the great Rod Laver after defeating Marcos Baghdatis in the Australian Open final in Melbourne, January 29, 2006. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV 


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Posted by The Power Angle Pro “The Ultimate Swing Trainer” | Golf Swing Trainer Beginning | Report as abusive

All you are saying is “what if”… but did all these happen? No… or not yet

So i think he’s the greatest for now at least

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

One thing about Laver is that people always ask how many more Slams would he have won during his amateur exile, but fail to consider that when he won the first six of his eleven slams he was an amateur while the world’s best were all in exile for having turned pro.

Had professionals not been banned from the Slams then Laver would almost certainly have won some of them between 1963 and 1967, but it is equally likely that he would not have won all six of the Slams he won between 1960 and 1962 if he’d had to contend with the likes of Rosewall and Gonzales. If you are going to ask ‘what if’ questions then you have to ask them both ways.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

Good point by the author of the blog but does that then mean that everything Roger has achieved as far as Grand Slam titles alone is not to be considered just becuase of his losing record to Nadal?
That doesn’t really make alot of sense.
Granted, Rafa is the one that stopped that tornado that was Roger when he landed on the scene, but before and during Nadal’s presence, Roger has still continued to win Grand Slams and I think that is what should count.

Don’t forget that Rafa was immediately declared the new best think in tennis after he beat Roger in Wimbledon for the first time last year.
There was no argument to that fact.

And by the way, this kind of debate will always go on so long as talent and heart remains in tennis.
We should just be glad that we have players of this skill to debate about.

Posted by T | Report as abusive

I still don’t agree that a GOAT is possible. Each era had such magnificent players that it would not be justifiable to declare one person the GOAT.

Laver was amazing and has 2 calendar grand slams to his credit. Borg was able to win back to back French Opens/Wimbledon so many times it became expected. Sampras owned almost everything but never held the French Open Cup. Federer was on line to win a calendar grand slam, only to be shut out be his fiercest rival and currently holds a losing record to Nadal and Murray. Roger also is tied with Nadal for Master Series Shields and neither has yet broke Agassi’s record of 17.

As we have seen with Rogers bout with mono and Nadal’s health issues with his knee’s, Lavers situation with turning pro and being in exile for to long. There are always and will be, career altering moments when all the greats suffer through to achieve the “greatest” status.

I don’t think that the number of slams alone can or should make a GOAT. The picture must be broader and the criteria must be well defined and applied to all in contention for the crown. Federer is a great player and recognition is appropriate, but the GOAT, I simply don’t think its his….yet.

Posted by Cindy H | Report as abusive

Federer’s consistency in the majors in the face of the deeper competition that we have today may well be the record that stands the test of time – the last 20 majors after the French in 2004 he has made it to at least the semi-finals, with 12 victories and 5 runner ups. All this, even after last years bout with mono.

Posted by John Hamilton | Report as abusive

Roger is much more fun to watch than any current player. Rafal is great, he has better record against Roger, but if you ask any tennis player nowadays who they would rather face, I would say 9 out of 10 say Rafal b/c they believe they ‘ll have better chance against Rafal than Roger. All the past greats had come out and rooted for Roger. Those two things above said enough

Posted by gb | Report as abusive

People do talk about how Rafa has a winning record against Federer. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. What people completely forget is that a lot of their 20 matches have been played on clay, Roger’s least favorite surface. On other surfaces, such as at the US or Australian Open, Rafa often didn’t even make it to the final to play Roger.

Posted by JacksonvilleMan | Report as abusive

In his earlier years , Nadal did not enter the later stages of tournaments except on clay , so Federer would keep facing Nadal in later stages of clay tournaments but face others on non clay , otherwise the Federer head to head with Nadal would have been far different .

Posted by Johnlee | Report as abusive

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Posted by Let’s not be so quick to crown Roger the Greatest | news ohsiam | Report as abusive

I think it is very hard to crown someone as the greatest ever. Firstly, we need to realize that there are players that dominate a certain era. Times change, diets change, fitness regimes change, rackets change etc etc. There are many factors that contribute towards changes in tennis. Definitely, we can say that Roger is one of the greatest. He has the stats to prove it. However to label him as THE greatest is baseless because we have no idea of the caliber of future tennis phenoms. And as far as Rod Laver goes, once again, dominated his era. Too much has changed in tennis to compare him to Roger.

Posted by The Observer | Report as abusive