After becoming the oldest World No1 in history, there’s plenty of people who say Roger Federer is not only the greatest tennis player of all time but the best-ever sportsman, too.
Here, our writers discuss who they think the best is in our top-three format debate.
STUART APPLEBY, SAYS:
1. ROGER FEDERER
Quite simply, the perfect sportsman. Titles, records and longevity are the main hallmarks of his staggering success at the top of the game over a 15-year period but it’s the Swiss’s professionalism, high-level of sportsmanship and will to keep going and going which sets him apart. As his climb back to the top of the rankings has proved, Federer is the man that can do no wrong and probably the most popular athlete around.
2. MUHAMMAD ALI:
Appropriately, the boxing king was nicknamed “The Greatest” and certainly lived up to that billing in a remarkable career and life. He was the only heavyweight champion in history to hold the lineal championship on three different occasions. Fought in the toughest ever era, with his eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in 1974 being one of the best-ever fights. Huge personality and presence which has never been matched.
3. LIONEL MESSI
Amazingly, he is still only 30 and going from strength to strength. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is the ultimate individual but also team player, possessing skill and talent of which the game hadn’t seen so consistently before. He was the main man behind arguably the best club side in history, leading Barcelona to a glittering array of titles particularly between 2008 and 2012. Can do anything on the pitch and just loves the game.
ALEX BROUN, SAYS:
1. MICHAEL PHELPS
There are many who have a claim on the GOAT but I’m going to start with the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. He has also won the most Olympic gold medals (23), and in Beijing in 2008 broke fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven golds at any single Olympic Games. He also did it over five Olympics, four of which he was the most successful athlete of the Games.
2. ROGER FEDERER
In terms of consistency, technique and longevity the Swiss has to be up there. Federer has won a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles including a record eight Wimbledons, a record six Australian Opens and a record five consecutive US Opens. He has held the World No1 spot in the ATP rankings for a record total of 302 weeks and has displayed a remarkable level to get back to the summit of the game.
3. CRISTIANO RONALDO
This might be controversial as I’m including one and not the other (Messi), but an equal most five Ballon d’Or awards, five league titles and four Champions Leagues puts him right up there. He also continues to produce year after year. Perhaps his most extraordinary achievement was lifting a very ordinary Portugal team to the European Championship in 2016. He’s the sort of player who makes other players around him play better.
MATT JONES, SAYS:
1. MICHAEL JORDAN
Nicknamed Air Jordan, he might as well have walked on air with how much better he was than any other athlete during his mega successful basketball career. Jordan was a six-time NBA champion and NBA finals MVP, five-time most valuable player and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the USA. Was so good he even ventured into baseball in homage to his murdered father, although that didn’t turn out to be quite so successful.
2. JERRY RICE
Considered to not just be the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, but also a shout for being called the greatest NFL player of all time. He is the all-time leader in most major statistical categories for wide receivers, including 208 touchdowns, and remains miles ahead today even 13 years after retiring. Won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers during their heyday and was selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times in a 20-year career.
3. USAIN BOLT
Not only was Bolt untouchable on his day but he made what he did look fun too. The joyful Jamaican mixed slick showmanship with incredible speed to break a string of world records. He is the first person to hold both the 100m and 200m world records and is the only sprinter to have won Olympic 100m and 200m titles at three consecutive Olympics. Also holds the 100m world record time of 9.58 seconds, set in Berlin in 2009.
Roger Federer celebrated becoming the oldest man to reach the world number one ranking by making the Rotterdam Open final on Saturday with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) victory over Italy’s Andreas Seppi despite losing sleep watching early-morning coverage of the Winter Olympics.
The 36-year-old Federer racked up his 14th win from 15 matches with 33-year-old Seppi, the world number 81 who had enjoyed a memorable week in the Dutch port city by reaching the semi-finals as a ‘lucky loser’.
Top-seeded Federer will face Grigor Dimitrov in Sunday’s final.
Dimitrov, the second seed, advanced to the semi-finals when Belgian opponent David Goffin was forced to retire after injuring his eye when the ball flew off his own racquet.
Dimitrov was leading 6-3, 0-1 at the time.
Federer said that despite not getting much sleep due to the excitement of his latest achievement – and draining more energy by watching the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the pre-dawn hours – he expects to be fighting fit for his Sunday showdown which could result in a 97th career trophy.
“I felt OK today, maybe a bit heavy on court but I was aggressive,” the 20-time Grand Slam title winner said.
“I started finding energy midway through the first set, but the start was tough.”
The two-time Rotterdam champion, who guaranteed a return to the world top spot by seeing off Robin Haase in the quarter-finals on Friday, added that he will be ready to go for his first afternoon match of the week after playing the night showcase slots.
“I’m good, it’s not been a tough week physically, maybe a bit harder emotionally,” he added.
“I hope to play one more good match and that’s it for the week.”
Federer also dropped a big hint that he still might play the Dubai tournament, which begins a week from Monday.
The seven-time winner of the Gulf tournament said that he will take a decision later in the week one way or the other.
“It’s still open,” he said.
Despite enjoying a 6-0 career stranglehold over Dimitrov, with their last meeting in the 2017 Wimbledon fourth round, the top seed will not take anything for granted on Sunday.
“I know him very well, he had an incredible year last season, winning London (the World Tour Finals) and Cincinnati. He’s beaten some good players and started this year solid.
“This has to be a week where he wants to win this tournament. I’ll try my best and hope it’s enough,” said Federer.
It seems like a lifetime ago now when Roger Federer was crestfallen, face buried into the grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Then 34, the Swiss was sprawled out after tripping and falling trying to recover a Milos Raonic ball. It was a horrible moment, not just for the man himself, but for spectators present at the scene and those watching far and wide.
Hands to mouths, in shock, everyone worrying for Roger.
He eventually got up and the blow of a crushing five-set semi-final defeat would have hurt a lot more, for whatever pain he was experiencing on his knees, the left of which he underwent surgery on to repair a torn meniscus soon after his loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open that year (2016).
But at SW19, the place which almost belongs to Federer, this moment wasn’t part of the script – it couldn’t end like this. He looked every bit of his veteran age (in tennis terms) and the ovation he received when he walked off court felt like one of goodbye, not necessarily from him, but that was the undercurrent vibe. So, was that it? It seemed so.
He’s done. He’ll never win Wimbledon again or any other slam. He’s lost half a step or two. He just can’t match the younger guys anymore. He’s never going to beat Djokovic or Andy Murray now. The new generation are coming through and fast.
Those doubters, it has to be said, made their points well. On July 26 2016, Federer called time on his season and the road back looked long. In fact, you couldn’t see the end of it. What a way to go. The greatest player of all time – for all his achievements – at an end.
For Federer fans, it was hard to come to terms with all that. It went in a blink of an eye. For some, it felt like grieving.
It was also a good time to fully appreciate and acknowledge what he had been able to do in the previous couple of years under the tutelage of boyhood idol Stefan Edberg. Remembering the recent good days before taking in an incredible career as a whole.
There were three major final appearances (Wimbledon 2014 and 2015) and the US Open (2015). He lost to Djokovic in all three but played an attacking brand of tennis so mesmerising that it led many to believe it was his best.
Still, he hadn’t added to his major haul and Djokovic, on 12, was quickly catching up to his 17 while Rafael Nadal was just three back on 14. His standing in the game as the most decorated was at huge risk.
Fast-forward to now and his fans are rejoicing following back-to-back Australian Open titles, a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon and a fairytale return to World No1. The turnaround has been monstrous. With 20 Grand Slams to his name, those dark days before have made this success more striking and mean so much. The best-ever, there can be no doubt now in tennis terms, but what about the greatest sports star of all time?
Quite simply, yes, in the sense his case is stronger than most.
Federer has everything. The talent, trophy wins and records are a given but when you add in his longevity, becoming the oldest World No1 14 years after he had first got there, his dedicated fan following, the way he conducts himself and serves as an ambassador for his sport… You really couldn’t ask for more.
Yes, followers from other sports or indeed those of Nadal may feel the fanfare for Roger is too extreme, and at points in his career luck has been on his side, but that would be disrespecting a modern-day icon who makes up the most ideal athlete if you had to build one from scratch.
The argument is rich, how do you go about choosing between Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan or a Lionel Messi? Almost impossible but Federer has redefined the laws of greatness.
So, how long can he keep on playing? The man is a master of his own schedule, will make the right call and while those around him are cracking up, withdrawing from tournaments and looking unlikely to get back to their best, there’s reason for him to stick around. If, as suspected, he decides to skip the clay-court season again, a stab at defending his Wimbledon title is on the cards.
Add in the fact it must be pretty good being Roger Federer. With the support he gets the world-over, his love of travelling and close-knit team, playing tennis is still the easy bit.
Ultimately, Federer’s legacy is defined more by his majors and playing style, but this feat, a milestone which deep down he would have doubted he’d reach again, almost tops the lot and is a life lesson to everyone, cliche as it is, that age is no barrier and to never, ever give up.