Is Roger Federer the best tennis player of all time ?

Roger Federer may have lost the 2019 Wimbledon men’s final, but he had the crowd’s overwhelming support in Wimbledon’s longest single’s final against Novak Djokovic. Federer’s recent loss does not overshadow his 20 Grand Slam titles in the Australian Open, nor does it quell the debate of whether or not he is the greatest tennis player to have ever played the game. Many tennis fans may argue that Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Rod Laver or Djokovic (who also beat Federer to win the 2018 Masters) should be considered the Greatest of All Times (or GOAT, in tennis lingo).

Three reasons why Federer is great but not the greatest

It`s impossible to compare over time

Comparisons across eras are insufficiently meaningful. Training conditions and methods are becoming more professional as time goes on. Modern equipment and technology provide players with better equipment and different means of playing the game. Moreover, you can`t tell which players competed in a stronger era.

For example, can you tell if Federer is better than Rod Laver or Pete Sampras? Sampras competed with stronger players, like Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter. Laver dominated the game no less than Federer, winning 11 Grand Slams despite the fact that he was not allowed to compete for five years in the middle of his career. It can’t be said conclusively that Federer is the best player to ever play the game—therefore, it shouldn’t be said.

Actually, Serena Williams is the best

When considering who deserves to be named as “the best tennis player of all time,” gender should be left out of the discussion (although it usually isn’t). Therefore, Serena Williams should be considered the game’s best player ever. Even Federer himself has acknowledged her dominance in the sport.

Both Williams and Federer have each won the most Grand Slam trophies worldwide, but Williams’s record of 23 wins is more impressive than Federer’s 20. No one is close to flirting with Williams’s domination, unlike Federer, and she holds a better Slam-Average (Grand Slams entered/won ratio). So, when only referring to men’s tennis, the claim that Federer is the GOAT may be legitimate, although worth a deeper discussion. However, when gender is taken out of the equation, it has to be Williams!

Lack of competition

Roger Federer dominated the tennis courts between 2003 and 2007, winning 12 out of his 18 Slams. In seven out of those 12 Grand Slams, Federer beat Andy Roddick (who admits he is one of the worst players to ever hold the no.1 ranking), Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Philippoussis, Marat Safin and Marcos Baghdatis, none of whom are considered elite players, and who weren’t ranked highly when Federer won against them.

The average ranking of the players Federer faced in the finals during those years is 16.3. Back then, Djokovic`s average, for example, stood at 6.5, meaning Federer played against weaker players than Djokovic did in the finals at that time. Federer’s decline in wins coincides with the emergence of Nadal and Djokovic.  His impressive record of Grand Slam wins should be attributed mostly to his lack of competition during those earlier years. Since 2007, Nadal and Djokovic have respectively taken their fair share of Grand Slam titles – and now Wimbledon.

The Bottom Line: Roger Federer’s skill, class, versatility and stylish game may make him the undisputed GOAT, yet the claims that he faces weak competition and that it`s hard to compare players over time remain a strong argument for those who believe he is not the best tennis player ever. Do you think Federer is the true GOAT?

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