NAIROBI, July 7 – Last week was all about one man. As Roger Federer inched closer to winning Wimbledon, talk of his impending grand slam history dominated talk among sports fans.
And last Sunday, he lived upto expectations by winning the Wimbledon to surpass Pete Sampras as the most successful men’s tennis player of all time with 15 Slams to his name.
Since then accolades have poured in.
Rightfully he is now being compared to the legends of the sport- Mohammed Ali, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
But is he really the greatest tennis player of all time?
With a ferocious forehand, a solid return and powerful serves as well great tactical awareness, Federer also has a touch of finesse and almost balletic balance in his game that sees him so effortlessly a swell as pulling off impossible shots.
And boy is he mentally tough! To come back form the kind of losses he suffered at the hands of Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon last year and Australian open final this year and win two grand slams in a month speaks for itself.
He can also dig deep as he did against Andy Roddick last Sunday by simply refusing to comprehend defeat. His comeback from 6-2 down in a tie break in the second set typified one of his other core attributes-ability to come up with the goods when most needed. That incessant will to succeed; that never say die attitude that is present in winners.
But as much as he is head and shoulders above his generation, I do not think that he is greatest of all time.
For me that honour goes to Rod Laver- the only man to win calendar slams twice -five years apart, who spent sevens years as world number one and the last man to win all slams ina a calendar year. Followed closely by Pistol Petewho won seven wimbledon and five US open titles.
Federer may have dominated but his rise coincided with a time in tennis when there was not that much competition.
Sampras was on his way out, Agassi was living on borrowed time and the rest of the upstarts were simply not good enough.
Lyetton Hewitt had only tenacity while Andy Roddick will always be a little one dimensional- great serve and volley player but not much else.
Federer thus did not have the kind of challengers that Sampras for example faced. Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Michael Stich.
These were pedigree players- Grand Slam champions, former numbers ones and definitely better than David Nalbandian and Roddick.
This ensured stiff competition and as depicted by Sampras’ comment, “If you win one slam a year you should consider it successful.”
Federer had an easier ride and as soon as proper challengers came out, he has lost some of his invincibleness. Even against Roddick, he really did not look comfortable as he admitted later; “I won a match I was never in control of.”
Infact for the last 18 months, he has looked anything but invincible as Nadal, Djokovic and to a lesser extent Murray are pushing.
He however remains the best player of his generation. In addition to 15 grand slams, Federer spent a record 237 consecutive weeks ranked number one in the world, played an unprecedented 20 career Grand Slam finals, and reached the semi-finals (or better) of the last 21 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, a streak spanning over five years.
With fatherhood around the corner, tennis world will be curious to see how he handles his new responsibilities especially as he has always travelled with his family.
But should he go on to 18 or 19 as Sampras has predicted then he will no doubt have laid claim to the best player mantle as he will have fended truly top challengers in Nadal, Murray and Djokovic.