June 5th, 2011
08:07 PM ET

Roger Federer and the quest to be the best

In sport, there is always a burning desire to know: Who’s the greatest of all time? The answer, unfortunately, is never that easy.

It is almost impossible to compare teams and players from one era to another. Still, we try: Could World Cup winners Spain beat Pelé’s Brazil? Is Tiger Woods better than Jack Nicklaus? Never mind that sports evolve considerably down the years; rules change, equipment changes, and we change. Humans are in general bigger, faster and stronger than they used to be.

Even when eras do overlap and we get the match-up we want, time and age do not always cooperate. Witness the long-awaited fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. Lewis was at the peak of his powers; Tyson was far from the fighter known in his prime as “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” Lewis knocked him out but could he knock out a young Tyson?

And then there's the case of Roger Federer.

The Swiss star has one of the most compelling claims of any sportsman since Michael Schumacher to be considered the greatest of all time in his chosen sport.

It isn’t just that Federer has more Grand Slams than anyone else, it’s how he won them. Federer’s 16 Grand Slam wins came over 27 tournaments; Pete Sampras got his 14 over 49. Federer reached 10 Grand Slam finals in a row; the previous Open-era record was 4. Federer reached a staggering 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals in a row; the previous record was just 10. Federer’s accomplishments tell a story of complete and unprecedented dominance over his sport.

Or should I say, almost complete. Because on Sunday, we saw the one obstacle blocking Federer’s path to the very top: Rafael Nadal.

Federer, so dominant over the rest of the tennis world, is on the other end when he faces Nadal. He cannot beat him in Paris. Lately, he cannot beat Nadal, period. He’s won just 8 of 25 matches against the Spaniard, and just 2 of 9 in Grand Slams. Nadal has now beaten Federer in the last four Grand Slam finals they’ve played. And remember the famous Wimbledon final between the two in 2008 that’s been dubbed the Greatest Match of All Time? Well, Nadal won that one too.

This begs the question: Can Roger Federer be considered the greatest player of all time when there’s an argument he’s not even the best player of his own time?

For his part, Nadal himself maintains that Federer is better; just last week he called him “the best player in history.” Nadal also dismisses his head-to-head record, saying it is “not the decisive element,” and points instead to the sheer number of trophies Federer has won.

Federer certainly has silverware on his side. And he is more consistent across more surfaces than his rival. But every time I watch Federer and wonder if I’m seeing the greatest player of all time, I can’t help but remember one thing: When Federer and Nadal meet, Nadal almost always wins.

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soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Jo Moore

    The greatest payer has to have a nemesis, Federer's is Nadal. Yet Nadal is not invincible and Federer regularly beats the people who have beaten Nadal. I really wanted Roger to avenge that 2008 Wimbledon final today but it wasn't to be. I don't want to deny how superbly Nadal plays, particularly on clay but for me Federer is sheer poetry in motion and foe me, will always be the greatest. As Becker said at the beginning of the match 'my head says Nadal will win, my heart says Federer.' The head won today but Federer has my heart!

    June 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  2. odin

    fed is the greatest of all time ...reason is simple. Nadal has not met federer in finals of non clay surfaces, as federer has met nadal on clay surfaces, if nadal had met federer in finals of us open, wimbledon, and aussie open when federer was in his prime, i wonder what the record would be, remember federer beats nadal 6-5 on non clay surfaces, federer beats nadal in wimbledon 2-1, when nadal beat federer in wimbledon, federer was starting to descend, nadal has never met federer in us open. like how federer has met nadal in french open. Remember federer is the second best clay court player in history, is nadal the second best grass court player in history, is nadal the second best hard court player in history ???, pete sampras would whip nadals behind in grass and hard courts. So dont give me that crap about Federer not being the best in history, he is the best in history because he has the best game in history on all surfaces.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  3. Mark Davidson

    This begs the question: Can Roger Federer be considered the greatest player of all time when there’s an argument he’s not even the best player of his own time?

    Wrong on several facts.
    1. AGE MATTERS – Nadal is 4 years younger. Roger is turning 30, in tennis terms 'past it', and for last 2 years in decline, and its been the last 2years that Nadal has scored most of his victories over Federer anywhere but clay. Roger was in his prime at 24-27 like all players, and has winning record over Nadal everywhere but clay . So truly Rafa isn't 'same generation' but 'next' in tennis terms – Rogers same generation where former no.1 Hewitt, Safin, Roddick ..who he owned completely.

    2. SURFACE MATTERS – Take away clay, and Nadal is NOT dominant over Federer. Sampras was never good enough to make RG finals, so would never have lost to Rafa, so now Federer is a worse player than Sampras because he IS good enough to make RG final? !, but loses to GOAT on CLAY...makes no sense! ...yes recently Rafa finally edged wimbledon in 5sets over Roger, and US open not against Roger...who is past prime.

    3. MATCHUPS MATTER – Just because ONE player designs his game to beat you as Rafa did with Roger, doesn't automatically make him the 'better player; overall. Tennis is about matchups. Its how you play rest of field that matters as well, Federer dominace at his peak is far greater than Rafa's.

    So reality check – SURFACES MATTER in TENNIS , if you don't get that, you don't get tennis. For sure Rafa is GOAT on clay, and great at playing a declining Roger Federer last 2 years, but Roger for sure is currently GOAT overall.

    Rafa was also early developer, its unlikey he will still be winning slams at 29-30 Rogers trying, infact, he more like a McEnroe/Becker/Borg who also won at early age, but failed to win past 25/26 so don't assume he's overtake Rogers slam total – he'll do well to 14 with Nole coming up, and Murray/Del Potro ready to challenge.

    If Rafa can go on and win 15+ slams over next 2-3 years, I would give him GOAT title, assuming Rogers doesn't go on to win 20 that is, which is possible – especially at WImbledon where surface helps.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  4. kjb

    Until Nadal wins more GS titles than Federer there can't be a discussion. How can the head to head even be a part of it. There is over 5 years between the 2. Federer is in his twilight years, Nadal is in his prime. Out of the 25 times they have now played Nadal has won 17 times but 12 of those are on clay. Fed leads the h2h on other surfaces 6-5. There is no doubt that Nadal is the greatest clay courter of all time. Federer could have easily saved the h2h record by not playing in clay court tournaments. Sampras only ever played the French Open and maybe one tune up clay tournamnet a year because his game was not suited well for clay. I Federer had done the same he the h2h would be way closer, but, Federer has a desire to improve and to one day beat Nadal at the French. Today has been his best chance yet. Hopefully he has some left in the tank for another shot at it.

    p.s. Fed is gonna win Wimbledon this year.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  5. Sakhi

    Yes, indeed, Nadal does always win but that's also because Federer has been the second best player on clay and created opportunities to meet Nadal in finals. The same cannot be said for Nadal's worse surface–the U.S. Open–where Fed and Nadal have never met and if they had, Federer would surely have whipped him.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  6. T

    What a stupid article. The majority of the wins on Rafa's side have been on clay courts. Federer was at his peak 6 years ago, and he happens to be 29 years old in case you've forgotten. Nadal just turned 25. The fact that Federer is able to play such fantastic matches at his age against people years younger than him is astonishing. The fact of the matter is that Federer was at his peak 6 years ago. People like Nadal and Djokovic will only dream that they'll be both as mentally and physically healthy as Federer at age 29. The players that Federer had to beat years back were also some of the greatest tennis players of all time. Let's face it, the present day players aren't nearly as skilled.

    Federer is and will most likely always be the greatest tennis player of all time.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  7. Robert

    Federer won 8 of 25 matches vs. Nadal, not six.

    And the biggest problem with Rafa is that he plays left-handed, so he serves to Fed's weak side.

    In baseball, there are specialist pitchers (lefties and righties) and hitters (lefties and righties). Only in tennis is there such a shocking, glaring advantage for being a lefty. And Nadal is not a natural lefty but was trained to exploit this weakness in the game, a loophole in the rules.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:27 am | Reply
  8. Wilz

    Sigh it seems like Federer fans would just never acknowledge Rafa. Federer would whip Rafa on grass and hard court? What happened during wimbledon 08 and AO 09, Rafa dethroned Federer on his "best" surfaces. Federer never beat Rafa on clay...... You would just say Federer was not in his prime, Rafa was not in his prime either when he lost on non clay surfaces, he was still a kid (19 year old kid), I dont see him losing now. Nadal could easily be the 2nd best grass court player if Federer is the 2nd best clay court player by the way, two finals, 2 champs for wimbledon at the age of 25, and he is going to win more. To say Federer is the best clay court ever is the dumbest statement ever because he only has one RG title. If your logic works, then Nadal would be the 2nd best grass court player. By the way, Nadal beat clay court specialist Kuerten , federer (the so called greatest player of all time X 6), hot berdych and prime djokovic for his titles, who did Federer beat? Hewitt, Roddick like five times, Mark phillippoussis, washed up agassi, baghdatis, gonzalez...........impressive? I don"t think so. They were relatively easy compared to Rafa's opponents. There is so much evidence to argue that Federer is not the GOAT, if I had to pick one it would be Sampras (or Nadal), at least he actually killed his main rivals. I definitely agree with the author of the article, "Can Roger Federer be considered the greatest player of all time when there’s an argument he’s not even the best player of his own time?"

    PS. dont forget about RG 2009, Federer beat Soderling for it LOL, and ATP 1000 masters titles, olympic gold medal. Federer fans get off his dick please

    June 6, 2011 at 7:53 am | Reply
  9. J

    I don't subscribe to the idea of the definitive GOAT, because there are many definitions of greatness. However, I do find the above comments about Rafa not meeting Federer in the US open and how Federer is old now as very biased and somewhat pathetic by the Feddites. I mean, do you realize how old Rafa was when Roger was beating him in Wimbledon finals? He was REALLY young. Rafa won Wimbledon a few weeks after his 22nd birthday, on his third final against the 5 time defending champion when he was 26. Roger won it the first time just before his 22nd birthday. They both won their first Aussie's at 22, and Fed won his first US open at 23, while Rafa did it at 24. It seems that if you will play the old card, the same consideration should be give to Rafa early. Also, clinging to a 6-5 advantage of clay is the evidence of GOAT? Really? That seems pretty weak for the supposedly obvious GOAT. Anyway, I think Feddites would be better off saying the matchup is just bad and wait and see if Rafa can surpass some of Rogers records. In any case these are two of the all time greats and it has been a pleasure to watch them. I think Fed has a great shot at Wimby, and with all of the top three playing pretty well and the outsiders Murray and DelPo, it is nice that the outcome of Wimbledon is not obvious before we start. It is exciting and great for tennis!

    June 6, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply
  10. David

    An interesting article, but are you suggesting that only because Nadal regularly beats Federer then that overshadows all his other accomplishments?

    Or vice-versa: do you think Nadal is the greatest of all time because he regularly beats Federer?

    I understand your point but in that case its impossible to say who's the greatest of all time because every match has it's story. You could say that Federer was just 'lucky' to win his Grand Slams because of poor competiton, but that would be very naive.

    It's like saying Schumacher won five successive title because McLaren weren't good – that's incorrect. Schumacher won those title because Ferrari was very strong.

    June 6, 2011 at 8:24 am | Reply
  11. Prashan Singh

    It is very clear that, if we are looking for one of the greatest clay court player its Nadal, BUT, if we are looking for the greatest player of all time, then the name comes and stops to FEDERER.The experience, skill,average and consistancy of Fed's outnumbers Nadal's.
    I am not denying the fact that Nadal is a great players.
    What i am saying is that Federer is the greatest player(atleast from my point of view).

    June 6, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
  12. Mariu

    "Only in tennis is there such a shocking, glaring advantage for being a lefty. And Nadal is not a natural lefty but was trained to exploit this weakness in the game, a loophole in the rules."

    I second that. Nadal right handed, but is a trained lefty just for tennis. It was a clever but cheap design decision.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:32 am | Reply
  13. Greg Papastylianou

    I agree that with T. This article is stupid. Its as if The person who wrote this has been watching tennis for 2 years.

    Just by watching Roger play the game 2 years ago you could see the guy is an artist.

    Rafa is a beast... powerfull, never ending efforts to win a point. But cannot compare with the elegance and effortless way he used to destroy opponents.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  14. Mary

    I have been questioning whether or not Federer is the greatest player of all time. I think he is a fantastic player and there is a level of "elegance" with the manner in which he plays. However, what I question is whether or not there have been top rated players around during his reign. If we look back in time, we had so many talented players performing in the same time / era, like Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and the list goes on. The only time Federer had a hiccup in his game is when Nadal appeared (and possibly now with Djockovic). But what about the rest....... So can we actually compare then? Just questioning.....

    June 6, 2011 at 9:44 am | Reply
  15. George Gonder

    From the ad side, Nadal can serve to Roger's weak side, driving him out of the court, but Roger can do the same to Nadal serving from the deuce side. There are advantages for both in equal measure. And there is no loophole in the rules.

    Rod Laver is the greatest ever. He won two calender Grand Slams and 11 total slams. If he had been allowed to play for 20 slam titles from 1962 to 1967, he'd probably have a total of 20 or more.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:10 am | Reply
  16. scndnv

    Well, the best would suggest also wins on clay and at the very least, beating Nadal.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:38 am | Reply
  17. Ryan K

    Federer is still the best in my opinion. The consistency that Federer showed on such a high level in many years deserves some credit. Not to mention the most singles grand slam titles. So yea, Federer is still the best player of all time.

    Nadal's relentlessness has always been the reason why he had beaten Federer many many times and it is important to remember that Nadal is at the peak of his career While Federer is descending.

    Both are phenomenal athletes and great competitors but until their careers are over, it's not fair to compare these two for the title of history's best tennis player.
    Looking from the silverwares owned by Federer to this moment, he still owns the all time best player title but give Nadal a chance. He should be able to reach Par to federer. Until then, there's no argument. here.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:59 am | Reply
  18. RP

    The comments were more insightful than the article . Need I say more !

    June 6, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
  19. anon

    As of today Federer is the greatest tennis player in the history of the game. That can change if Nadal wins more GS on grass and hard surface. Remember Nadal has stiff competition wth players younger than him (Novak and Del Potro).

    June 6, 2011 at 11:07 am | Reply
  20. Rebs76

    Age matters : Nadal beat then world #1 Roger Federer in Miami in their first match when Rafa was just 17 on a hard court!!

    Surface matters : Rafa also beat Roger on grass where Roger is supposedly invincible.

    So, is Roger GOAT? Is Rafa GOAT? No for both. Nobody is.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply
  21. todd saed

    THE GOAT, no maaa-ybees , greatest of all time was Pancho Gonzalez,
    he had a 130 MPH serve, 112 MPH forehand, 70% of first serves in with a wood racket, nowadays 55% or so, lobbed, pole axed overhead smashes, the complete game, offense and defense, any surface, rangy, fast, lithe, and peerless at the mental game, the ultimate warrior spirit, and knew things like how court temperature affected ball flight, things others did not think about, was world pro champ eight years in a row, beat Rod Laver when he was forty, Rod the only one to win two Grand Slams, if you want to number crunch and bean count number of titles to determine the GOAT, then Rod would have to be considered for GOAT< on this basis. Pancho at age forty one played the longest match to that date at Wimbledon, almost six hours, and made the semis. That is longevity far beyond the current crop. ANd all this while fighting the status quo as a Mexican American. Collins, Connors and other experts have agreed with this, if they had to bet their life on any player for one match, it would be Pancho. ANd the greatest racket ever, the Spalding World Open was endorsed by him, and autographed. If not for shamateurism in the fiftes, he would have won maybe 11 slams they say, not the two before going pro, he could not be broken on serve, rhythm the key, was it Latin, effortless, and everthing grace beyond even Federer. Youtube has some good videos of him in action , and serving tips. He was grounded,not jumping, hit the ball like nailing to a branch over head, took racket straight into hitting slot, high toss, to top of reach, power arc knee bend, loose arm, good body rotation, best serve ever with Bill Tilden a close second, Tilden wrote the classic text in the twenties, Match Play and Spin of the Ball, nothing of the fundamentals has changed since then, the new rackets are not a main factor, Bobby Riggs would beat good players with a broom

    June 6, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
  22. MasterCheese

    The term "best" is relative and moves from one to another. Certainly Federer was the best. But now the term is in a transition period.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  23. Adam Zammit

    ahhh the glory of the new media. stupid blogs that are written purely as bait to generate our desperate responses and refutation which are then sold to advertisers as "great customer interaction" and "long hang time" due to "CNN's compelling content". Bottom line; a real sports journalist would never have written such a ridiculously ill-considered article.
    But thanks for the prod to remind me that most often nowadays when i click on a compelling headline online I'm more like a dumb rat snatching at cheese ill never get to taste

    June 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  24. Rasmus

    I think its important to notice the amount of career Grand Slams, ie how many times has a player who has won all the Grand Slams, won the one he won the least (yes tricky to say fast..:)).

    Roger for a LONG time, looked like he would become another incomplete player, like Sampras, with the French Open losses to Nadal but finally he got one when someone else expedited Nadal out(Soderling) for him for his only career slam, though it was good enough to get a complete resume like Agassi and not an asterisk-career like Sampras had to endure.

    Nadal did his lone career Grand Slam, but from the looks of things, it doesn't really look like he won't grab another since the Aussie Open and US Open are really just a matter of getting in good shape and injury free for him.

    Its not like Federer, who has to kinda hope for Nadal to beep up somehow to have a chance for a 2nd French Open.

    That said, Federer has already proven everything and anything and his pure Win-Loss in single is STAGGERINGLY EPIC!

    Remember after getting number 15 and the French Open Federer IS the best by the numbers, with noone to chase. Nadal has his idol and primary career record target right in front of him in almost any important final and he has beaten him roughly 2/3 times.

    Nadal might just beat Federer in 4 yrs time, careerwise, but Nadal had it easier with something to chase all the time. Regardless, both players have boosted tennis HUGELY and really brought forth a rivalry and passion about the game again. Its McEnroe and Borg all over again!

    June 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  25. erwin

    roger is a legend, no doubt. but i do not agree 100% with him being the best ever in tennis when he cannot beat his nemesis in clay. that's all. i am a rafa fan....rara rafafan...rara rafaran...bad romance.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  26. Dany

    I think aesthetic Federer is beyond competition. Whenever i watch him play there is a great sense of the beautiful regardless of winning or losing. I have never seen gracefulness so beautiful as when Federer loses or wins, but especially when he loses a match. When i watch Federer a great feeling of love takes over me and there is no more division or conflict. Even Nadal feels sorry for winning against Federer it seems to me.
    Tennis is not the same game after Federer...

    June 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply

    You are so right in this article. I'm a Federer fan,but when you loose the French Open final five times over the years to a same player , you simply cannot be called the best of all time. Statistics are cruel, they go by the numbers and not by the heart, so you heart followers of Federer, stop looking for excuses to call him "the best"and just watch yesterday"s final. You will see that nadal was better not only tecnically (as always ) buy also MENTALLY.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  28. onno frowein

    Watching the final of Roland Garros it's made clear again that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all times. The general public always mixes winning with being a great athlete. This wonderful final shows again the graceful tennis that Roger Federer shows the public with his unbelievable variety of shots from whatever angle of the court and on the other side Nadal, the counter puncher, who returns every ball in an ugly position and twisting his body. No wonder he has been injured on many occasions. He is the 'wall player' who returns evey ball.
    In short Roger Federer was the true champion of Roland Garros it's too bad he didn't win the match. But for for a true tennis lover it was Roger Federer who won anyhow.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Reply
    • Ely

      Wow, the match was intense. Nadal would not give up, the aounmt of break points he saved was insane. Just when you thought Nadal was out, he dug deeper.An extra day's rest and a cakewalk in the semi and Federer still couldn't find a way past the raging bull. Herculean mammoth effort by the Spaniard.If Federer wants the 14th he has to earn it.If Tennis Australia wants Federer to win the Aussie Open they could do him a favour by not lining up all the legends, not talking about the 14th slam, not fawning over him as in the trophy presentation saying Federer is Australia's favourite player ... the hype and weight of expectations is getting inside Federer's head and the Tennis Australia and whoever else is just perpetuating it.With each subsequent Nadal beatdown, Federer is starting to look more and more like a fairweather champion.

      April 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  29. Pat

    Amusing to see comments striving to emphasie how Federer (29 years) is older and hence Nadal beats him.

    The 5 years difference between Federer and Nadal is hardly an age difference. 10 years is – like between Sampras and Federer. 11 years is – like between Agassi and Federer.

    Federer is not the Greatest of All Time by a long shot.

    Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were 10 and 11 years older than Federer. When Federer did manage to beat Agassi in the US Open (2005), Agassi was 35 years.

    Federer did not beat Sampras in any of the majors, though to be fair to Federer, Sampras played his last in 2002, overlapping Federer's career by only a few years. Still Hewitt (older than Federer by only a few months) faced off with Sampras in 2001 US Open finals, beating Sampras for the title.

    Federer was lucky that the two greats – Sampras, and Agassi were gone when he began winning, or maybe he began winning because they weren't there.

    Among the people Federer beat in Grand Slam Finals – Philippoussis, Safin, Roddick, Baghdatis, González, Söderling, Murray etc. are hardly in the class of Nadal insofar as consistency.

    Nadal has won 10 out of 12 Grand Slam Finals giving him 83% win percentage. Federer has won 16 of the 23 Grand Slam Finals giving him about 69% Win percentage.

    Those who're harping on the age difference between Federer and Nadal as reason why Nadal beats Federer, well when Nadal first beat Federer in French Open (2006), Federer was about 24 years.

    Also, lets not forget that Nadal severe injury problems have aged him in terms of durability far more than Federer. Despite that he's been beating Federer to achieve a 17-8 H to H record.

    No doubt Federer is great, and lucky he did not have to face quality players for some years immediately after Sampras and Agassi were gone. But he is not the Greatest.

    Now that Del Porto, Novak, and Murray are coming through, Federer is finding it harder. Then there is Nadal. Federer never had to face this quality before.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  30. Raj

    Listen there is no doubt that RF has to be considered the most graceful player of all time. I think a factor that needs to be considered however when looking at his grand slam wins is the level of competition he has faced. From 2002 – 2006 the mens tennis field was arguably the weakest it had been for some time with the likes of Roddick and Safin being Federer's toughest opponents. It was only really 2007/8 where the likes of Nadal, Djokovic started really providing competition and it is no surprise that over the last 3 years RF has not been dominent the way he use to. I think if Nadal stays fit, he could win another 6-8 grand slams including atleast another Wimbledon and US Open. Remember he won all 4 slams at much younger age than any other player in the modern era.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  31. Munzir

    Its called Achilles heel ............

    June 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  32. Steve Ks Ng

    I totally agree with Mark Davidson, on all points. Particularly the point on Age. It was the first thing I thought about while reading this article. Roger's "own time" is not exactly the same as Rafa's.

    To reach 23 consecutive semi-finals in Grand Slam means that Roger had dominated the men tennis for about 4-5 years before Rafa came into the scene, when Roger was at his peak between 23 – 27 years of age. No matter how great any sportsman is, no one can dominate and stay at his peak forever. So it is arguable that Rafa would have beaten Roger as many times in the Grand Slam finals during his peak years.

    Another thing that people forgot about when Rafa beat Roger at Wimbledon 2008, was that Roger had a poor year that year by his high standard because of an virus infection. Credit to Roger, he had never used that as an excuse.


    "In sport, there is always a burning desire to know: Who’s the greatest of all time? The answer, unfortunately, is never that easy."

    Really? Whose desire to know? I don't think Pete Sampras is too concern about Roger breaking his 14-title record? Neither do I think, at the end of the day, Roger will be too concern about another player breaking his eventually.

    Is Pele and Maradona really care about whose is the all-time great? May be, because these two have big egos.

    Does Rod Laver or Bjorn Borg care too much about who is the greatest?

    I don't think the players themselves care too much about the debatable debate of who is the greatest. It's the journalists, the commentators, the watchers, the fans who like to make it a point to debate about this pointless debate.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  33. Tennis

    why don't you just look at the stats,

    Bjorn Borg is still the best why because he has won Garros and Wimbledon back to back more than any other player in history and still no one will be able to do better and this is the most difficult to do out of all tennis championships.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  34. betty yuen

    There´s something very special on Federer in his gracious movement and personality on the court that no one else can compete and even any- where near to his graciousness and personality. He goes to the tennis court for a tennis match, but certinly not for a fight with aggression and arrogrance like some of the other tennis players would appear – presenting themselves as if they were in a bull fight ring.
    Whatever the scores are at the end of each match, for me, he is the winner and has always been.
    I wish he will be around for a long long time yet, and I sure do wish him and his family all the very best.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  35. John Babatunde Omotola

    I just want to say there is none like him in Tennis because I can't find exact word to explain it.RF is the best of all.

    John Babatunde Omotola
    Nigeria,living in Germany

    June 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  36. Thomas Howell

    Federer is the best without a doubt, because being the best ever is not just about winning the most Slams. Federer plays with a style and elegance which I have never seen in any player. He has the most Slams and plays with entertaining class, not simply relying on brute force to bully an opponent.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • Arpiche

      to all of you bringing Serena's ditttuae into this, i say to you its just boring.What do you expect him to say ? Kiss the feet Rafa was walking and flow with good words ?I am sorry, I may not know the full dynamics of tennis, but in football, where I am competent, there is no such thing as gracious winner.You either first, or you are nothing.Either Serena or Roger or anyone else, nothing is wrong with repping your own qualities and the day it wasnt good enuff to win your game.All this crap about Serena is just so annoying....

      April 3, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
      • Caic

        Roger you have a beautiful wife and two lloevy daughters. It is such a joy to watch you play tennis. If you lose the tournament is over for us. Some times we are tired after one of your tougher matches. It is hard on us old folks 70 and 71 to help you play each shot . It is stressful to try and will you to win. Must be hard on Merka also. You take care and be areound for a long time as your tennis has been and will be magic. Always Bill & Marjorie Holder

        July 31, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  37. Charles Osita

    Federer is about 5 years older than Nadal! Your argument would have made a lot of sense if they were the same age! Remember what you said about matching Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. I believe the only way to judge is by comparing their respective titles/wins and other statistics like number of weeks as world number one et cetera. We cannot use their matches together to judge simply because they are not the same age!

    June 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  38. Charles Osita

    Further to my earlier comment, we can only judge the greater player between Federer and Nadal AT THE END OF THEIR CAREERS! Then we can compare their respective achievements to determine the better player!

    June 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  39. lsi

    Unless someone has invented a time machine and can see all players in the future, arguing over who is the greatest of ALL TIME is just silly. It is not possible to know that. Get over it.

    The other side of this for me is that, when discussing the great tennis players to this point, why do people only focus on men? What about the accomplishments of the women? Let me know when someone in the ATP nears the title counts of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  40. TRex

    When Pete Sampras played his tennis, there were other equally dominant players in his time – Agassi, Courier, Chang, Rafter, Ivanisevic etc. Sampras played against these Giants and won pretty consistently. When Federer has played tennis he hasn't had the same quality of opposition. Try naming any other player than Nadal. You can't name one other dominant player in Roger's time other than Nadal. And when he gets that quality of opposition (in Nadal) – he loses. And people make a big deal out of the fact that Nadal dominates on Clay court. Well that is the toughest surface to play tennis on. This is why many past champions like Sampras never won on clay. Also, at 25, Nadal has already won Wimbledon twice. So the argument that Nadal only dominates on clay gets thrown out. Nadal has yet to go some fair way to become the greatest ever – but with his consistent weaknesses against Nadal, Roger Federer cannot be the greatest ever. No player can be called the greatest if he is somebody's bunny. Federer is Nadal's bunny. Simple as that. Sampras' achievements look much brighter in comparison.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  41. Asics

    Nadal is a brilliant tennis player, but Federer is of the scale. Why, Federer plays tennis as tennis should be played. When he hits the ball it's poetry in motion. Borg had it, Mcenroe had it, Pistol Pete had it and Federer has it.

    When you see Nadal play, he hits the ball literally, and he hits it hard. There is nothing beautiful about it, but in the end it wins tennis matches.

    Nadal plays the kind of tennis, a player can't play for a long time. I don't see him still playing when he has Federer's age, or at least not at that level.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  42. S A Minhas

    Roger Federer is inarguably the best. Reason? Quite simple. He has not missed a single major event for any reason – be it injury or any other. To be able to stay at a peak in a sport for so long not only performance wise but also physically is no small matter. In fact it is astounding. Nadal, Djokovic, Del Porto, Murray. They over exert, strain, bombard, grunt. Win a few and then disappear from the next few. Anyone can do that. But Federer. Without straining, exerting & hurting himself he has won them all. In other words, he has won them all with ease and without so much as a murmur. Now how beautiful is that.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  43. N/A

    Would only like to comment that Today's #1 Tennis Player (Nadal) is humble enough not never undervalue ONE of the Very Best players in history and give Federer exactly what he has earned over the years, the full respect even of Today's #1, even when he has consistently beaten him.. something you dont see very often. Yet is funny to read comments where after what Nadal has achieved till today, there is people that undervalue what he has earned by searching for excuses of all kinds and colors.. such as Nadal beat Federer when he was in his "downslope" haha... maybe Federer began his downsloap because Nadal beat him... we would never know but lets at least be as honest when speaking of Nadal as he does when he speaks of Federer... I believe Nadal has also earned that same respect.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  44. Kevin

    I find it totally amusing reading all the arguments for and against Federer being regarded at the greatest.

    First of all, I'm a Fed fan so let me get that out of the way at the outset.

    Secondly: Pat, Federer did beat Sampras in a major – Wimbledon 2001 in 5 sets. Just thought I'd correct you there.

    I like the debate, the stats about players old and new, the numbers, the records etc. It's fascinating. As a Federer fan I'd like to think of him as the greatest and a win against Rafa yesterday would have helped his cause a great deal. The truth of the matter is that it will always be up for debate. I don't think there is a player out there who has a winning record against EVERY player they have ever come up against. Sampras, Borg, Mcenroe, Laver all had their respective achilles heels.

    Andy Murray has a winning record against Federer but no-one ever brings him into the GOAT argument and that's for a very simple reason – his overall stats don't come close to Federer.

    At this point in time I don't know if Federer is the greatest but what I do know is that Rafa is not. Between 2004 and 2007 Federer lost a total of 23 matches. 23 matches in 4 years – Nadal has never come close to those numbers. Nadal may still convince me otherwise over time but right now he's still far from being the greatest.

    That's my 2 cents worth. But keep the comments flowing guys, it's most entertaining!

    June 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Reply
    • Khadim

      The match was lost by Federer in the 1st set. Once he lost that from being up 4-2, DOUBLE FAULTING on break point, I knew Rafa wbould win the match.{I cllaed it yesterday)I went to sleep after Raja was down a set and a break. I'm curious to see the 3rd set tiebreakbecause that would have been Raja's last chance to win but I saw early the way Raja was servin, if Rafa kept it close, he was goig to win those sets.Good for Raja to get it to five but I wouldn't be surprised that was Rafa's doing.Congratulations to Rafa! 6 majors, 5 of them over Raja is quite incredible. We seriously have to be talking about whether Rafa will also be breaking Laver's record, because unless he gets injred he will be in double digits by the time he's 25, in 2011.Of course Raja cried–how could he not? It's cruel to suggest that he shouldn't.

      April 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Reply
      • Auth

        Marjorie holder, I think that is the nisect comment I have ever read on the Internet. My wife and me feel the same and we are 40 years your junior!They made your generation of stronger stuff methinks Erap. I disagree with you on the first count and on the second I respect him more that he stuck with his wife who filled out a bit after kids. A real woman, a real mother, a real husband and a real love. Sounds like such ideals would not appeal to you, due to your callous comment, but there are plenty of us who see the virtue in their relationship.

        July 31, 2012 at 5:01 am |
  45. Rez

    Whoever questioned Fed because he wasn't playing in an age with a lot of 'competition' that brings up an important point. There are a thousand variables to this argument and if we stretch ourselves we'd all be able to come up with variables as the following: Was it easier for greats of the past to win slams because there was less global warming and therefore more predictable weather?

    Because of this there is only one way to measure one's answer against the ridiculous question posed by the writer of this article.

    Fed has won slams on all surfaces. He's won more than anyone else in history so until someone beats that with a stick, it's case closed.

    Of course he also won slams during a period of time when we had less global warming and also won slams when we had more global warming.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  46. Rez


    There are a thousand variables to this argument and if we stretch ourselves we'd all be able to come up with variables as dubious as the following: Was it easier for greats of the past to win slams because there was less global warming and therefore more predictable weather?

    June 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  47. kayar

    Lot's of contradictions and flat out wrong thinking here. First, HEAD-2-HEAD does matter in this sport. This in not like golf or track-and-field where you compete against the competition en-masse. The only other major sport that is both 1) individual and 2) head-2-head is boxing. And there is no way Ali could ever have claimed the title as the GOAT if he had lost that tie-breaker to Frazier in Manilla. No way! You can't be the GOAT if you can't better your rival in sports like boxing and tennis. Secondly, what Rafa is forced to publicly say as a humble and gracious champion counts for naught. It is not his position, nor does his narrow experience allow him the authority to determine who is the GOAT. Thirdly, in complete opposition to the author, Sampras 14 titles came over a 12 year period because THERE WAS WAAAAYYYY MORE DEPTH AND COMPETITION ON THE MEN'S SIDE OF THE GAME THAN THERE HAS BEEN SINCE WIMBLEDON OF 2003! Since that time Federer and Nadal have in essence been the varsity of the men's tour (with Djokovic creeping in recently)...everybody else is junior varsity. That fact the Roger equaled Pete in half the time proves the opposite...not dominance, but rather a glaring lack of depth. Pete was 14-3 in slam finals (82%)...Roger is 16-7 (70%) against a field that does not include a slew of multi-Grand-Slam-winning-Hall-of-Famers like Becker, Stich, Rafter, Kuerten, Edberg, Agassi, etc. Saying Roger is the greatest (over Sampras) is like saying Mike Tyson was better than Ali because he became the youngest champ at age 20. Does anyone , who knows sports and boxing, really want to compare Tyson's list of competitors and against those Ali fought against?! I would think not. Lastly, it is interesting the media pitted Agassi and Sampras as Pete's chief rival. They, Pete and Andre, played in 6 slam finals...Pete won them all. Agassi's only Slam victory against Sampras was a mid-90's Australian Open semi-final. Contrarily, against level talent, Roger has a losing Slam record against both Nadal AND Djokovic...two multi-Grand-Slam-winning-future-Hall-of-Famers. You can't be the GOAT when that happens.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  48. Eric

    Federer is more consistant than Nadal. He is also in a better health.
    Someonre wrote about "nemesis". I agree with that. Nadal beats Federer consistently, but Federed beats everybody else, even the one who, lately, consistently beat Nadal: ie Djokovic. I think the Djokovic win took a lot out of Federer. It showed in the final.
    Nadal is the king of Rolland Garros. And I wish he wins many more there.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Elena

      My thoughts ectlaxy. I was won over by this youtube video when you showed it to me a couple of months ago.a0 Ia0 began to like Nadal when he quit wearing the sailor pants and sleeveless wife-beater shirts. I'm still a Federer fan though, if only because of that clssic one handed backhand.Sadly, only Roddick is an A-Hole and he is virtually irrelevant.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  49. George Gonder

    No doubt about it, if it's a question of aesthetics then it's down to Pancho and Roger, but this isn't figure skaing. If there were no Rafa, then there'd be no talk of Roger's declining years. Roger is what, 29? Well Rod Laver was 31 when he won his second Grand Slam!

    June 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  50. George Gonder

    When I write "Grand Slam" I mean all 4 majors in succession.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  51. Raoul Mérové-Pierre

    Stop the argument, Rafa said it best, Roger Federer is undoubtedly "the BEST tennis player in HISTORY" by every aspect of the game, he is on the Cover of The BOOK.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  52. chris

    You cannot compare these two right now. Only after retirement of both will this be settled.

    Right now Federer has more records/grand slams etc but that is because he is older. We must wait and play out the rest of their careers and probably most imortantly how Nadal finishes his. Because if he does not win more or the same # of slams than Federer then he can't be said to be a better player.

    The only true way to test this is actually impossible, that being putting both of them together in their prime. Their prime tennis playing did overlap yes, but thats it, just a couple years. The two are relatively even when playing on all other surfaces even when taking this prime tennis years age difference into consideration.

    Again, if Nadal doesn't win more Grand Slams that Federer he will simply not be the best. Let me relate this to another sport. Michael Jordan as of now is considered the GOAT for basketball. Lets bring in Steve Kerr, who has the best 3 point percentage in NBA history. Could Jordan beat Kerr in his realm? I highly doubt it, Kerr would probably beat him most of the time in a 3 point shooting contest, just as Nadal, the clay court specialist, has beaten Federer, best all around tennis player. Clay is the best Nadal has to offer just as 3 pointers were the best Kerr had to offer. It is a specialty.

    If you are a Nadal fan I can understand, he is class act and a superb tennis player, but you must agree with the above or you are just too much of a fan to be objective. I myself believe Federer is the greatest, but am still leaving the door open to see how the rest of Nadal's career plays out because that is the only way to answer the question of who is better. It simply cannot be answered right now unfortunately. If Nadal goes on to win more grand slams on other surfaces and passes Roger's mark, then I will easily say that he is the best. Not happily, because I am a Federer fan, but it would be easy to conclude that. But as of now, he must prove that he is more than just a specialist and finish out his career with more non clay surface grand slams to surpass Federer.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  53. sn

    roger federer: 16 grand slams, 23 grand slam finals total. 23 consecutive semifinal appearances
    rafael nadal: 10 grand slam singles titles, 12 grand slam finals total.

    When Rafa catches up, particularly in Roger Federer's consistency of semifinal and quarterfinal appearances, and not just with French Open titles, we can discuss whether he's the best the game has seen yet, or if he's just the best claycourter in a while.

    June 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  54. Sonia Szewczyk

    My favorite was Borg, than came Federer. It doesn´t matter who is the best, but Federer is the classic tennis player. He´s got poise, is elegant, charming and doesn´t have all those disturbing gestures and tics very typical of Nadal. Loved your text , a delight to read!!!

    June 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  55. HHH


    Nadal beat Federer at the Australian and Wimbledon finals. NON-clay surfaces. Know you tennis facts, please. Federer is no slouch and still in his prime.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  56. David

    I'm fascinated wondering, how dramatically this (very enjoyable btw) discussion would have changed, or even the article ever be written, if that drop shot from Federer during his 1st set's set-point chance at 5-4 would have clipped the line.. oh lord... An inch from changing history I'm sure...

    June 6, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  57. J

    The depth of competition discussion is interesting, but it the numbers are not evidence for it, they are self defeating. There is no way to tell if the competition in the last 10 years was not as strong as the 90s, and that is why Federer won more, or, alternatively, if the competition was just as strong in the 90s and Federer is just that much better.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  58. Prakash Moktan

    Roger Federer can be considered the greatest only if he can beat Nadal on clay in Paris – once in his life time before be becomes a – 'history' and after 30 years of age in another year – it will be most difficult and he will become one !

    As for Nadal – if he can win this year at Wimbledon with or without Roger,
    its time world do consider him the greatest ?

    kathmandu – nepal.

    June 7, 2011 at 12:28 am | Reply
  59. Michael

    The question is greatest of all time, And time has not yet finished for both Rafa and Roger. We should look at the players that are not playing anymore and they should be the greatest thus far. But up to this time, I believe Roger is greatest.

    June 7, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply
  60. Tamar Harel

    he is and always will, even if he loses a big one. It is who he is that makes him the best!!!!! on & out of court..........

    June 7, 2011 at 4:43 am | Reply
  61. Sarmad

    It is not what he achieved only, but the way he plays the game.
    Simply he is the Mozart of tennis

    June 7, 2011 at 8:31 am | Reply
  62. Maro

    "George Gonder June 6th, 2011 10:10 am ET
    Rod Laver is the greatest ever. He won two calender Grand Slams and 11 total slams. If he had been allowed to play for 20 slam titles from 1962 to 1967, he'd probably have a total of 20 or more."

    I don't know if you have played tennis, but facing a left handed player in a tournament means that you have to totally change your strategy.
    A left handed player keeps playing the same way, unless he meets a left handed player. Go check for yourself, playing against a left handed player. You will be thinking how to adapt, he wont.

    funny point, rod laver actually was left handed, so was jimmy connors and John McEnroe .. and Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, so yeah, it does matter. Big time.

    June 7, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
  63. Amit Kar

    While Nadal may well challenge for the title of GOAT, at the moment it is almost illogical to argue against Federer. While most people have the ability to appreciate and enjoy the privilege of watching these two amazing athletes play the game better than anyone before, some feel the need to promote Nadal. But on what basis?

    – His head-to-head? No; it's well established that Federer has been able to destroy everyone apart from Nadal on clay; hence the 5 French Open finals and one title. It's understandable that Nadal would win the vast majority of the clay encounters. He's also younger so gets to play Federer in his prime while the older guy is beyond his.

    – Slam titles? Obviously not. Fed has 16 and Nadal now as 10. Until Nadal has more there's no contest here. Some Nadal fans like to point to the fact that Fed only has 1 French title. But Fed has multiples in the other slams while Nadal only has one each at US and Australian.

    – Overall record at slams? Nope. It's pretty much already impossible for Nadal to ever match the streaks which really, more than anything else, mark Federer out as the best; the 28 straight slam QFs and 23 straight slam Semis, and 23 slam finals overall! I think people forget just how nearly impossibly difficult it is for someone to make it to the quarters, semis, and finals of these tournaments. The differences in physical ability between the top players in the world are razor thin, which is why anyone of them can beat another on any given day. That's what makes Federer's streaks so amazing. What Federer has achieved here is simply a sublime, unassailable achievement in tennis, probably more so than his 16 titles.

    Nadal is amazing and may one day stake an unchallenged claim to be the GOAT. For now, and for a few years to come it is Federer.

    June 7, 2011 at 9:00 am | Reply
  64. George Gonder

    "Maro June 7th, 2011 8:34 am ET
    I don't know if you have played tennis, but facing a left handed player ... you will be thinking how to adapt, he wont."

    I'll tell that to the next lefty who loses to me. I'll bet lefty Nadal was thinking like mad while losing to righty Djokovic several times recently on clay.

    Laver, who's first Grand Slam was in '62, was no more a stranger to opponents when he did it again in '69 than Nadal to Federer at the French, where believe me Nadal was thinking/adapting as much as Federer.

    June 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  65. rotini

    Why do people mention Djokovic in terms of 'coming up', as if he's of a younger generation than Rafa?
    He's less than a year younger than Rafa, and turned pro only 2 years later than Nadal did.
    Assuming that he is a 'late bloomer', how many more years would Djokovic have to play to equal, let alone surpass, Nadal's success??

    June 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  66. Bees

    Nadal's game strategy is not suitable for a man any older than 27 years old. He mainly runs around the court returning every ball hit to him, however that won't be possible when his legs are worn out and he's older. Federer's game play is formed so that he can still succeed even when he's significantly older. I'd love to see Nadal play as well as Federer is now at the age of 30. Time will tell, but I personally don't expect those knees to withstand much more.

    June 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  67. sportguy

    Nadal annoys Federer...personally. Nadal has great skill but his lefthandedness is also an advantage. I would teach showing videos of Fed not Nadal.
    Thus Fed has a weakness, a mental one, about Nadal.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  68. tennis

    I feel when compare to Pete Sampras and Aggasi these two are not a great players .
    You cannot compare these two right now. Only after retirement of both will this be settled.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:24 am | Reply

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