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Roger Federer is Great for Tennis – and Sports

Here’s the thing: tennis is one of those sports I play more than I watch. It's just one of those things. There's not enough time in a day for me to watch every sport. On the other hand if someone would pay me - trust me – I'm watching anything.

You're reading the words of a guy who has watched curling on more than one occasion.

Tennis is a great game. The athletic demands are complimented by the technical aspects of mastering the sport. A few years ago my close friend, a former tennis player and instructor, told me that by the time he's done Roger Federer may very well be the greatest tennis player who ever lived. I took those words seriously since my friend was not into hyperbole. More sober and sane than he they don't come. "There no weaknesses in his game," he said.

Well, Roger Federer won his 10th men's singles grand slam title, winning in straight sets over a feisty Fernando Gonzalez at the Australian Open. That's good for fifth all-time, which ties Federer with Bill Tilden. He's two titles behind Ray Emerson and only one behind Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver.

More importantly, at 26 he is just four grand slam titles away the all-time leader Pete Sampras.

Wow.

Tennis has a problem on its hands. Through most of the sport's history tennis was blessed with classic rivalries. Who can forget those battles in the 1970s and 1980s between Borg, McEnroe, Connors and Lendl? Sampras and Agassi had a thing going too. But who will dance with Roger?

Andy Roddick has the attitude and will to challenge him, but if his serve is off he struggles. Rafael Nadal has flair and is blessed with a more complete game but outside of clay he's a mere mortal.

In modern tennis there is no one that comes remotely close to Roger Federer. His dominance is pure net – excuse the bad pun. What captivates me is how smooth and beautiful his game really is. He's perfect in all aspects of the game without looking like a robot.

Let me take this a step further. Forget statistics. I'm dropping the gloves here. Forget Tiger Woods. Forget Babe Ruth, Pele, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Forget Michael Schumacher and Mohammed Ali – to name a few.

Yeah, I may be getting excited here but I'm going with a sports junkie's instinct here. People will always debate Montana or Unitas? Chamberlin or Jordan? Lemieux, Orr, Howe or Gretzky? Even Pele has legitimate challengers in Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano. Some even swear that we wasn't the greatest Brazilian player ever. For this they look to Garrincha.

For his part, Ali is sometimes not referred as the greatest heavyweight of all time. It's notoriously hard to judge auto racing or cycling – though Eddie Merckx can easily plead his case as the greatest cyclist ever. Come to think of it, he Woods come as the closest challengers that I can think of. But even experts admit Tiger has some weaknesses to his game. I've yet ot hear that about Federer.

I know I'm mixing some team sports in there but you get the picture. Yes, tennis has had its fair share of dominant players. The consensus however has Rod Laver as the greatest and most complete player ever. Sampras has the numbers to back him up.

I recognize all that. Still…

There is a very real chance that when Federer retires he may close out his career as the most dominant professional athlete ever.

Just for that I'll be watching. There may not be any parity in tennis (sometimes dynasties are just plain good) but Federer's class and elegance may just enough for sports fans to forgive and forget.

About Alessandro Nicolo

  • MCH

    Question:
    Who’s more dominating in their sport right now?Roger Federer, Tiger Woods or LaDanian Thomlinson?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Kobayashi.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Good question. It’s tough to compare sports. I’m a little biased against golf. Although Woods brings a different kind of athleticism to golf. There is no doubt Woods dominates. Does he do so more than Federer? I would argue no. Then there’s the issue of what is a sport? Does golf fit the criteria? Again, I vote in the negative – great mental strength and concentration notwithstanding. Where does a race car driver fit in? As for LT, he clearly dominates his POSITION. Not sure about the sport at large. Comparing Urlacher, Manning and any other position may be an impossible game. I will say this: if he keeps up this pace he may have a shot at being grouped with Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. But if you ask me between Federer and Woods I think it’s Federer – hands down.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    I stand corrected: Kobayashi.

  • sal m

    there are a few things that may hurt federer as far as his all-time rep goes.

    first of all, the popularity of tennis is at an all time low and the sports fan’s take on male tennis players isn’t the greatest.

    second, every great needs a foil or serious rival and federer doesn’t have that. ali had liston, frazier and foreman. jordon, magic and bird had each other. jabbar had elvin hayes in college and wilt and willis in the pros. palmer and nicklaus had each other and there were also other great players from other generations that overlapped these careers.

    federer’s best bet for immortality and mass appreciation might be for him to lose a title to one of these other young guns so as to set up some interesting and meaningful rivalry situations.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Sal, that’s a valid point. And that’s true. But allow me to counter: what if Federer’s dominance is precluding this from happening? Is it Federer’s fault that no one can match him? The best thing for tennis is if a) Nadal can learn to win on other surfaces b) Roddick makes good on his vow to challenge him and c) Some other phenom (preferably Swedish. You know, for old times sake) comes along.

  • http://www.joyceb.com joyce

    Federer dominating tennis is bad for the sport because he is so boring and has no personality to intrigue people with. I prefer to root for the underdogs anyway. They are more exciting to watch (like Gonzales was in the final)

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Joyce, there’s much to be said about personality and many people do cheer for underdogs – that’s the beauty of sports. I knew a guy who always cheered for the Hartford Whalers in the NHL for no better reason than he hated the dominance of the Bruins, Nordiques, Sabres and Habs in the old Adams division. Though personally – while nice to wow people with a personality – it’s not an issue for me. At the end of the day I like to see an athlete reach a plane no one can reach. That said, Gonzalez and Federer are both classy individuals. But you’re right – tennis can use some flair.

  • Patrick

    Just one correction…Federer is still 25 years old not 26.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Which makes his accomplishments all the more scary – by one year.

  • nugget

    I could beat him, easy.

  • nugget

    at CHESS.

  • PT

    Good blog! Do you like tennis or you just like Roger Federer?

  • mamalicious

    i totally know nothing about sports(except tiger woods, but still don’t follow golf) untill i heard of roger federer. since then, i was a FAN. i know a lot of people who doesn’t follow tennis or any other sport but know who roger federer is.

    so about tennis being boring and loosing fans, i don’t think so…

  • http://www.lawntennisnews.com/ manfred

    Rafael Nadal can win on other surfaces. He just doessn’t dominate them like he does on clay. Andy Roddick is just plain short of winning against Federer.

    Sal is right, tennis popularity has hit an all time low. We need someone like Anna Kournikova but the WTA / ATP tour are soo protective of their players and products since her.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    PT, both. Manfred, no one can argue with that! Tennis is at an all-time low – as Sal mentioned -and it could use a rivalry. No doubt about it. But it comes back to the question: who will challenge Federer? As a principal, I may as well add this, I’m ok with teams or athletes who dominate without a challenger. In other words, bring on the dynasty! As for chess, I wouldn’t even win at checkers.

  • http://www.lawntennisnews.com/ manfred

    The ATP tour lacks rivalry, the WTA tour is more exciting than ever. Every player in the top ten could have won the Australian Open for example. There isnt too much quality difference, especially with the withdrawal of Justine Henin.

    The ATP Tour is I guess only exciting when they play on clay or when Federer is having an off day. I am looking forward to seeing Federer playing British talent Andy Murray. He lost against him last year and I wish to see Murray win again. Since that would be an indicator that the ATP can become exciting again.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    The funny thing is before Federer’s pronounced dominance, everyone was clamoring for a player to step up and dominate. 2003 was the most recent year where there were four different Grand Slam champions with Roddick winning the 2003 US Open, Agassi winning the 2003 Aussie Open, Ferrero winning the 2003 French Open and then Federer winning Wimbledon that year and starting his dominance.

  • ProfEssays

    Roger Federer is not young for tennis. So his dominance in tennis may be over soon.

  • haans

    Trust me he will dominate the game longer than u think because this guy never gets injured. He doesnt kill himself running like monkey. His movements are so smooth and elegant looks like he will play for another 8 to 10 yrs

  • THE TRUTH

    TIGER vs. ROGER – ROGER FEDERER DOMINATES TENNIS MORE THAN TIGER DOMINATES GOLF.

  • THE TRUTH

    TIGER vs. ROGER – THE TRUTH – Golf and Tennis have 4 majors every year. Tiger won his first major in 1997. From 1997-2007 Tiger has won 13 out of 44 majors. A wining percentage of 29.54% and Tiger is now 31. Roger won his first major in 2003. From 2003-2007 Roger has won 12 out of 20 majors a wining percentage of 60% and Roger is only age 26. Looking at these stats who would you bet on to win more majors in 2008 Tiger or Roger? Next, in 2008 Roger could become THE ALL TIME GRAND SLAM LEADER if he wins 3 more. TIGER CAN’T he still needs 6 more majors to pass Jack N. record of 18. In 2007 Roger won WIMBLEDON for the 5th consecutive year in a row. And you golfer thought Tiger was dominant on grass? Need I say anymore? O.K. I will Tiger himself and Pete Sampras called roger the most dominant athlete on the planet. Any questions on who is more dominant in their sport? ROGER FEDERER BY FAR – NO CONTEST.

  • alessandro

    Interesting stats. Thanks for that perspective.

  • THE TRUTH

    TIGER vs. ROGER – MORE TRUTH – GOLF vs. TENNIS. – Golf and Tennis have 4 majors every year. Play 4 rounds of golf and you can win a major. Play 7 rounds of tennis and you can win a major. Have a bad round of golf? don’t worry your total scores are added. Have a bad round of tennis and YOUR OUT OF THE TOURNAMENT. A tennis ball can move over 140-mph and you have to swing and move your feet in all directions to get it back. A golf ball moves at 0-mph and you are practically standing still before you hit it. Golf is played on grass. Tennis is played on grass, clay, hardcourt, and synthetic carpet. When tennis player’s get to old and out of shape a lot of them play golf. When Golfer’s get to old and out of shape to play Golf THEY DON’T PLAY TENNIS. Golfers argue Tiger has to play the field? The field does not get eliminated like in a 7 round tennis match play format no matter how bad of a round you have. Tiger’s record as a pro in match play is not great. If he played a 7 round match play elimination format like in tennis he would not have as many majors today.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    You’re comparing oranges and apples a bit here, Truth.

    True, golf is only played on one surface, but every course is different. A tennis court is always dead flat and the same shape and size. It isn’t subject to the whims of the designer. It isn’t sometimes twice as long, it doesn’t dog-leg to the left or right, the other end of it isn’t obscured by trees, it doesn’t have sand bunkers dotted around it or a stream running across it, and your serve is never going to get lost in the bushes. All of which makes luck far less of a factor than in golf.

    This extreme variation of conditions is what has made it impossible for Woods, as dominant as he is, to achieve anything like the hegemony that Federer has over his sport.

    That said, I do tend to agree with Alessandro that Woods has his weaknesses. You can argue that Federer has an Achilles heel – the fact that he has never won the French Open – but I’m reasonably certain that it’s just a matter of time before he remedies that.

  • THE TRUTH

    TIGER vs. ROGER – To Oranges and Apples. THE TRUTH – Golf and Tennis are different sports, but the thing they have in commom is that they have 4 majors every year against the best in the world. A tennis court is always dead flat and the same shape and size? So is a boxing ring, a football field, a baseball field, a basketball court, a track, and a hockey ring. What’s your point? Are you saying that golf is harder than all of these sports because it has different types of garden landscaping? BOTTOM LINE – Roger Federer dominates Tennis more than Tiger dominates golf? WHY? Ask yourself this simple question! Would you bet me in 2008 that Tiger Woods wins more majors than Roger Federer??? NO NO NO YOU WOULD NOT!!! All you have to do is look at the stats I provided for you. Finally Tiger himself and Pete sampras called Roger Federer THE MOST DOMINANT ATHLETE ON THE PLANET. You may disagree, but you, your golf buddy, or any sportswriter does not know more about being dominant in a sport like Tiger and Pete. A lot of Tiger CHEERLEADERS, but none of them would put their money where their mouth is and bet that Tiger will win more majors than Roger Federer in 2008. NEED I SAY ANYMORE? Apples and Oranges? NO! Federer more dominant than Tiger YES!