By Flint Wheeler
Yes there is doubt. It can be argued that Roger Federer is not “THE” greatest tennis player of all time. Most experts and ex professionals like myself believe it’s impossible to know who the “Greatest Of All Time” is. The best we can do is to try and understand who the best is at one time or another and compare for fun. The “greatest” also depends on your definition of great. When answering this specific question I’ll be showing that yes there is doubt. I’m not answering the question about who the G.O.A.T. is or claiming that any specific player is the greatest. I’m simply demonstrating that there is doubt by highlighting a common argument and giving some alternative contenders. Some obvious contenders for the title of G.O.A.T are Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal, Björn Borg or Pancho Gonzales to name a few. Roger Federer is undoubtedly among the greats. Everyone should be in agreement here. However, many experts would argue that he can’t be called the greatest of all time when he’s arguably not the greatest in his own generation. I know many Federer fans will be angry at hearing this but let me explain…
It can be argued that Rafael Nadal is the better player of the two. Rafa has a 21–10 winning record against Federer and has bested him consistently even when Roger was in his prime. Nadal also has a winning record against every player in the top 30. Many think it possible that he could surpass Rogers incredible 17 Grand Slam record if he stays injury free (personally I think this is unlikely). I know that statistics often don’t tell the whole story but the claim that Rafa is the stronger player of the two is a compelling argument. Even if you disagree, the argument shows there is doubt to the claim that Federer is “the” greatest. However if you want to strictly use statistics to determine who is the greatest tennis player of all time, then we should turn to the extensive study done by Dr Ian McHale, a statistician and Director of the Centre for Sports Business at Salford University (also Chair of the Royal Statistical Society’s Sports Section). Using a “dynamic paired comparisons model…utilizing barycentric rational interpolation” Dr Ian McHale analyzed the results of over 20,000 Grand Slam matches involving more than 1,000 players.
According to this study Jimmy Connors at his peak in 1976 is the greatest tennis player of all time. However, even this study does not show the full picture as it only includes “Grand Slam” matches since 1968. This means that statistics from the MIPTC and WCT or other circuits are not included. It also means that great players like Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzales and Roy Emerson (to name a few) are only partially included or not included at all. So to specifically answer this question “can there be ANY doubt that Roger Federer is THE greatest…” Yes there is doubt. There are many other contenders for G.O.A.T.
So who is the greatest of all time then? It’s truly impossible to say. One can argue back and forth forever talking about stats, records, quotes, semantics, etc,. But at the end of the day, who you think is the G.O.A.T, is up to you. Nadal, who never says a bad word about anyone, even commented earlier in his career that he didn’t think he was better than Federer. And Roger himself, when asked, didn’t say he was better than the legends such as Laver. Personally, I consider Roger as one of the top contenders for the G.O.A.T title. But then, for me, I suppose Nadal would have to be right there with him, or even in front of him as he has consistently beat Federer throughout his career. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion.