Very often in modern sport superlative words of praise are loosely thrown about to describe flashes of brilliance. Roger Federer, even before his monumental achievement on Sunday, richly deserved every single adjective of praise ever attributed to him. But with this long overdue and much deserved French Open victory Federer has firmly put himself in the category of “greatest ever.” And for anyone who follows tennis seriously that’s a rather exclusive category.
But first, the facts. Numbers cannot do justice to the man’s achievement. But this is his 14th Grand Slam, tying him with Pete Sampras; even more significantly the French Open was the only slam he needed to win to complete his career slam, a feat that makes him only the 6th man ever to win all 4 Majors and puts his 14 titles ahead of Sampras’. But the most astounding statistic is the number 20; in the last 20 Grand Slams Roger Federer has made the semifinals or better every single time. That’s the kind of consistency even Tiger Woods hasn’t managed. But to put that achievement into perspective, Nadal who was beginning a streak of his own, was stopped in his tracks at 5 consecutive semifinals and that too at the clay of Roland Garros, easily his favourite surface. Federer has taken on all comers and found the mental and physical reserves required to keep winning even when he hasn’t played his best. After Nadal’s shocking and unexpected exit, the pressure on Federer to win was unbelievable. This was his tournament to lose. And he made sure he brought his A-game against Soderling. This victory at Roland Garros would’ve been that much more sweeter if it had come against Nadal. And it can always be argued that Federer might not even have won if Nadal was on the other side of the net. But the fact remains that at the end of 2 weeks of gruelling play both Nadal and Federer were expected to reach the finals and only one man made it. For all his abundant talent and never say die spirit, Nadal still has some way to go before he can be compared to Federer.
Its always a tricky thing, to compare players of different eras. And the arguments for or against any player as greatest of all time are always contentious. As things stand today, there’s really only one name that can compare with Federer; Rod Laver. But even the Rocket will concede that when he played the schedule was nowhere near as hectic or the competition as gruelling as it is today and he didnt play on 4 different surfaces. In terms of an all round game, consistency, adaptability, sportsmanship and professionalism Roger Federer is peerless. And tennis is richer for it and tennis fans who follow his journey know that each time he steps on court they are watching a master who’s creating his own script that will be the stuff of legend.