In January 2018, Roger Federer defeated Croatian Marin Cilic in five sets 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the Australian Open final and claimed his 20th Grand Slam title – more than any male player has achieved in both Amateur and Open Eras. Just five days ago, on February 18th, he swept aside the no. 2 seed, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in just 55 minutes (6-2, 6-2). He became the winner of the 45th edition of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. By winning Dutch biggest ATP tournament for the third time, Federer captured his 97th tournament victory. And two days before that, he defeated Robin Haase and returned to World no. 1 spot 14 years since his debut.
There has been a lot of debate over the years whether Roger Federer is the true G.O.A.T. or not. As far as the sport of tennis goes, pre-war generation might say that Rod Laver is the greatest and they wouldn’t be wrong – back then, Rod Laver was the greatest player the world had ever seen. The post-post generation might pick Boris Becker, the youngest ever Wimbledon champion, or Bjorn Borg, with one of the most distinctive playing styles in the Open Era. And then there’s Sampras.
However, it’s not a matter of opinions any more, but statistics and facts. At the beginning of this decade he was already considered the greatest by many. So, can we start talking about the Swiss Maestro as the definite GOAT?
We should and here are 6 reasons why.
1. Unprecedented 20th Grand Slam Championship Title
Federer’s triumph at the 2018 Australian Open firmed his case to be the undisputed greatest player of all time. It was the 200th Grand Slam even in the Open Era and he won 20, which makes it one out of 10. The second in line is Nadal with 16 and third Sampras with 14.
“Maybe next year when I do come back, I might actually think I can win it, and then I probably won’t. It’s better to stay really relaxed about my chances — especially in my later years on the tour. I think it’s served me well to be relaxed.” – Federer
The Swiss participated in 30 finals, 43 semifinals and 52 quarterfinals which is also more than any other player. He holds the record for most Wimbledon titles (8), he holds the no. 1 spot with Djokovic for most Australian Open titles (6), and the no. 1 spot with Sampras and Connors for most US Open titles (5). OK, only one French Open title, but is the undisputed King of Clay, so it’s all good. Federer has won Grand Slams on all four surfaces, he’s an Olympic gold medalist and he has 332 match wins, which secures him the no. 1 spot in that category as well. 97 career titles secure him the second place behind Jimmy Connors (109), but the show in not over yet.
2. Longest to Hold World No. 1 Spot
The Swiss spent a total of 303 weeks at world no. 1 spot (as of 19 February 2018), which is an all-time record. Out of 303 weeks, 237 were consecutive which is also a record. He’s also the only player to break the 300th mark (Pete Sampras managed 286).
Federer also set a record for the longest time between the first and last topping the rankings. He was World no. 1 for a total of five times, only one behind Sampras. It is interesting to see that only seven other players are still in the tip 100 from the time Federer first became no. 1 (Nadal, Berdych, Gasquet, Lopez, Ferrer, Karlovic and Youzhny).
3. Ability to Stand The Test of Time
Federer has won three out of five previous Grand Slams and at the age of 36 years and 195 days, he became the oldest men or woman to be World no. 1 in history of the sport, surpassing Andre Agassi’s record of 33 years and 133 days. He’s the best player in the world at an age when Sampras had been long retired. He hasn’t retired once while completing all of his 1300+ professional matches. In 2017 he won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles, which is something he last achieved at 27. No player born in 1989 or later has ever won a Grand Slam Tournament. Some of them are 28 now, about the same age when people first started debating when will he retire or when should he retire, some even called for his retirement. People expected him to quit many times throughout the years simply because players don’t last this long. After. Luckily to Federer age is just a number, and he’s getting better and better with each digit.
As Mats Wilander said, Federer has an amazing ability to hold himself back in the earlier stages of a tournament, which enables him to stroll through later rounds with confidence. This kind of level of fitness comes only with maturity.
4. Playing style only getting better
Nadal said that Federer was born to play tennis, and precisely that is what he’s doing. And not just that – he’s playing the best tennis he’s ever played. He has a classic, relaxed and unhurried playing-style that is simply beautiful to watch. Like Rod Laver said himself:
“You just marvel at his tenacity and his floating ability on the court. He just seems like he’s floating all around the court — he’s not running. That’s something else.”
He’s game was one of the greatest back when he started dominating the sport, and now is incredible to see just how much his playing style has evolved since. He now has one of the most distinctive styles in the game filled with elegance, a magical forehand, sublime footwork, a signature one-handed backhand that became one of the most beautiful gifts the game has ever received. He serves with an astonishing perfection that allowed him to fire 10,414 aces and place himself on a respectable second spot after Ivo Karlovic. Along with incredible level of anticipation, sense for the timing of the ball, amazing volleying ability at the net, ability to play long rallies, produce masterful shots simply adds up to his on-court brilliance.
5. People’s favorite
The way Federer plays and, well, the way he is, makes him one of the most, if not the most loved sportsperson in the world today. Federer won Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award that is voted by the players a record 13 times between when he first became no. 1 in 2004 and 2017 (only exception was Nadal who won in 2010). Since 2003, he also won the ATP Fans’ Favorite award 16 years straight.
He has given a sport a name and face that people all around the world adore and admire and has done for tennis more that any other player has. Federer IS tennis and that’s why is GOAT.
6. Rod Laver said that Federer is GOAT
Rod Laver often talked about Federer being the greatest tennis player of all time and he finally got emotional during this year’s Australian Open prize ceremony.
“For me, I think Roger Federer is certainly the greatest player that has come along.
Yes, we’ve got lots of great players — look at (Rafael) Nadal with a record that says ‘I’ve just won 10 French Opens’, and you can’t sort of push that under the mat.
But I think Roger plays his greatest tennis on the big occasions, on any surface. He’s stood the test of time — that’s probably the one thing that puts you in that category of the best ever.
That’s one of the things that he has done. He loves the game, and everything he does around his life is somewhere related to all the great things he has done. It’s just unusual to see a wonderful champion like that be able to win at age 36 after seven tough matches."
The greatest athlete of his generation? Its Muhammad Ali ? Definitely. Some people will need a bit more time to get convinced, and Federer has plenty.