Roger Federer just defeated Marin Cilic for his record breaking eighth Wimbledon championship. It’s over. No more debating. Federer can now officially be crowned as the greatest men’s tennis player of all-time.
To all those Rafael Nadal fans – don’t be upset at this proclamation. Instead, look at the following proof in the forms of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Dustin Brown and Gilles Muller. The 31-year-old Spaniard has lost to all of the above at Wimbledon.
Now, compare that to Federer. His lone Wimbledon upset over the past 15 years was to Sergiy Stakhovsky in 2013. Alongside his seven Wimbledon titles, the other players the Swiss has lost to have been Nadal, Thomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Novak Djokovic (twice) and Milos Raonic, with the lowest seeding among those foes being 12th.
It’s that type of consistency with Federer that seals his spot as the greatest. In his prime, he set a record streak of reaching 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals and 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. Even when he was not even close to being at his peak on match days, he was still too good for his opponents.
Of course, there will always be the following knock on this claim. Nadal’s head-to-head ‘dominance’ over Federer is something that cannot be ignored. The leftie has won 23 of their 37 matches. If you delve into it though, the record is slightly skewed due to the clay court dominance of Nadal, where he has beaten Federer 13 times in 15 meetings. It confirms what everyone knows or has known for some time, Nadal is the greatest clay-court player in tennis history. He’s not the best overall – Federer has a 12-10 record over Nadal on other surfaces.
And here is something that really goes unnoticed. Federer may be the second-best clay-court player the men’s game has seen. At Roland Garros, he’s lost five times to Nadal, four in the final and once in the semi. Other defeats since he became a superstar have come against three-time champ Gustavo Kuerten, Robin Soderling (in 2010 when the Swede was the defending champ), Djokovic, Tsonga, Ernests Gulbis and fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka.
If we were to remove Nadal from the French Open equation and Federer could have six Slams on clay, which would put him high up in the same conversation as Bjorn Bjorg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander.
Federer’s record at the other two Slams – the Australian and US Opens – follow a similar pattern. If you’re going to eliminate him, you have to be outstanding, and do it late in the show. In Melbourne from 2004, his conquerors for a decade among four titles were Marat Safin, Djokovic (twice), Nadal (three times) and Andy Murray. In that same period at Flushing Meadow, he won the crown five times while suffering losses to only Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic, Berdych, Tommy Robredo and Marin Cilic.
Novak Djokovic looked like he was building a serious case to challenge both when he won his 12th Slam with his Roland Garros breakthrough last year. He has one more win than Federer (23-22) in their meetings – but the Swiss is five years older and the Serb has clawed ahead head-to-head in later years. His pursuit of Federer’s record haul of slams appeared inexorable, but much like Tiger Woods in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s golfing majors mark, it’s hit some serious hiccups – the latest via injury in London.
Tennis historians may invoke the name of Rod Laver, the only person to win tennis’ grand slam twice. What counts against Laver in the debate – before you even factor in the effect on the game of the changes via technology and training – is the depth of competition in the opposing eras. Laver certainly wasn’t beating up on bums – he constantly got the better of all-time greats like Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Lew Hoad and Roy Emerson. However, tennis wasn’t the worldwide sport in the 1960s that it is now, and the ATP Tour has a vast swag of top-drawer players from around the globe.
Federer’s resurgence in 2017, as a father of four, has been an unexpected, yet awesome, sight. He has taken the smart approach to looking after his body over the past two years and has reaped the benefits.
Federer’s consistent supremacy for almost 15 years in a marvelous era leave him alone at the pinnacle of the men’s game.