ROGER Federer is really f*cking good at sport. This probably doesn’t come as news to anyone who has been paying attention to sports in the last 20 or so years. Yet, while Federer’s sporting feats are hard to top, just where do they rank amongst his athletic peers since the year 2000? We know his prestige in the tennis world, chalking up more Grand Slam titles than anyone else, but comparing him to other 21st century athletes is a fun debate.
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FIRSTLY, let me clarify why I’ve chosen just athletes from the 21st century as opposed to of all-time. In the past two decades, medicine and recovery methods have improved exponentially allowing athletes to recover quicker and more effectively than ever before. Comparing say Roger to Rod Laver is just an unfair argument based on the fact that Laver played with a wooden racket and his idea of recovery was a beer and shower after a match.
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MAKE no mistake, there are plenty of other sportsmen/sportswomen who can lay claim to being the crème de la crème in the sporting field since the turn of the century. Perhaps the biggest challenge to his throne is a peer in his own field. Rafael Nadal has won more Grand Slams (15) than any other man not named Federer, and his dominance of the French Open may be the single most dominant span one player has had in a single tournament or event. Speaking of dominating a single event Michael Phelps, who was pretty good at swimming if you didn’t know, is a popular choice to win the debate for the most successful athlete in the 21st century. The most decorated Olympian ever with 28 medals ‘The Flying Fish’ has redefined what controlling a single sport has looked like with 16 years of brilliance in the pool.
ANOTHER human who is no stranger to controlling a sport is none other than the winningest footballer of all-time Tom Brady. With five SuperBowl rings and four MVP awards from the big dance, Brady might (and probably should) go down as the greatest footballer of all time. While quarterbacks are sometimes overrated and given too many props for their achievements there is no debating that Brady deserves every accolade bestowed upon him and then some. Need proof?
ANOTHER five-time champ in a different sport who recently hung up his sneakers in Kobe Bryant is as much of champion as Federer. Say what you will about Bryant’s selfishness or hunger to possess the basketball, but there may not be a person alive who has a higher competitive drive or ability to push for success. Before the arrival of LeBron James, he helped to recapture the excitement that was absent since MJ’s generation. It would be unfair to mention Kobe and not give Tim Duncan some props, with the humble giant one of the most underrated players in NBA history. Much like Kobe, Duncan was no stranger to winning titles and his relationship with Gregg Popovich was eerily similar to that of Brady and Bill Belichick.
WHEN it comes to justifying what titles are harder to win in a sporting field you could make an argument for a lot of different ventures. The way Fed reeled off a span of his titles was phenomenal though. With his first 16 titles coming in just 27 Grand Slam tournaments, Federer achieved a staggering dominating stretch the likes of which hasn’t been witnessed in sport before. During that eight-year stretch between 2003 and 2010, Federer had a ridiculous 182-16 win-loss record. Just think that for two whole years (’06 & ’07) in Grand Slam events Federer had a record of 53-2, with those two losses coming in French Open finals to Nadal. To rule over a sport for a lengthy stretch of time that he did (and to a certain extent still does) is unfathomable.
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THERE is more to being a celebrated athlete than just on-field accolades. An athletes impact as a personality and global icon is something that can’t be taken for granted. One such person who could be considered as a notch above the field is perhaps the greatest woman athlete ever Serena Williams. What she has done for women in sport is second to none, and that was before she won a Grand Slam THREE MONTHS PREGNANT. Her impeccable off-field ambitions and aspirations match her on-court wins, which is saying something. Although global sporting impact can’t be measured if it could, then there is a high likelihood that Leo Messi and/or Cristiano Ronaldo would top the leaderboard. The two soccer (sorry it’s not football on any SBF article) stars have run amok through Europe and Spain especially in La Liga competition since the new decade began, with Ronaldo tearing through England for half a dozen years beforehand. In fact, Ronaldo has been voted the world’s most famous athlete by ESPN in each of the last two years, with a high likelihood he takes out the award for a third straight time this year.
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FOR the majority of the 21st century, especially early on Federer, Ronaldo and Tiger Woods were the most iconic and recognisable names in global sport. The third member of that illustrious trio has had a sharp fall from grace in recent days, but that doesn’t take away from what he was able to accomplish as an athlete. Golf is a sport that can be similarly measured to tennis with the four major championships the coveted titles that players strive for. In the first 10 years of the 2000’s Tiger battled his way to 12 major wins and finished inside the top four another nine times. In comparison to Federer had 15 Grand Slam wins with another nine times of at least a semifinal appearance.
IN the past half a dozen or so years Federer is understandably falling off with age starting to take its toll, but he is still capable of winning major comps as shown at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. With his pro career spanning nearly 20 years, we have been lucky to see few injuries impact Federer, allowing him to compete at a high level. We aren’t quite sure if LeBron James is a human or a cyborg, but he is another player who has dodged injury woes to allow him to reign over his sporting domain. The four-time MVP and three-time champion is slowly building a case as perhaps the greatest basketball of all time. If Federer/Ronaldo/Tiger were household names in the 00’s, LeBron James is probably leading the field in the 10’s with his name and brand quickly spreading across the world as the NBA expands its reach.
HONESTLY, I could be here for hours debating if Roger is the greatest or if someone like Phelps, LeBron, Serena or anyone else mentioned above deserves the title more. Taking all things into account, sporting success, personality, demeanour, popularity, off-field/court endeavours, endorsements and so on I think you have to place Federer as the greatest in this century. Now that’s not throwing disrespect to others or their achievements, but Federer in 2017 has looked 10 years younger and has ripped through his field chalking up a 31-2 record at the age of 36. Phelps may have more ‘wins’ and dominance, but he lacks the complete package that Federer offers as a worldwide phenom. LeBron James, Neymar or someone yet to grace the professional sporting scene could very well change their argument with their achievements in the next decade or so, but as it stands now Roger Federer remains the greatest athlete of the 21st century.
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