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Point/Counterpoint: Is Federer the best tennis player ever?

BY DI SPORTS STAFF | JULY 07, 2009 7:21 AM

YES

When it comes to sports, I am a numbers guy. Why? Because stats don’t lie. They don’t need to be interpreted, just calculated.

This remains true for tennis star Roger Federer, whose status as the greatest men’s tennis player of all time will surely be debated on every sports-media outlet this week.

His recent Wimbledon victory, another instant classic, earned him a record-breaking 15th Grand Slam title. If that stat by itself doesn’t persuade people that he is the greatest ever, they should keep reading.

Federer has an exceptional record in Grand Slam finals, winning those 15 in 20 appearances. He has also reached the semifinals or better in 21-straight Grand Slam tournaments, a stretch that began five years ago. He has basically been unstoppable since 2003.

Still need more proof? Federer has 60 career titles overall. He also set the record for the most consecutive weeks spent ranked as the world’s No. 1 player (237), a ranking he recaptured from Rafael Nadal with the win in London this past weekend.

Just when everyone virtually counted him out and dubbed Nadal as the next great player, Federer came back strong, winning three of the last four majors in a calendar year.

Now, I wasn’t alive or old enough to remember some of tennis’ legends, including Pete Sampras, who was the previous record holder with 14 Grand Slam titles, but that’s another great thing about stats: They can be used to measure and compare players from different time periods.

As Federer prepares for the U.S. Open in August, where he is the five-time defending champ, his record number of Grand Slam titles stands alone in history at 15 … and counting.

— by Robbie Lehman

NO

Roger Federer has 15 Grand Slam titles, has made 20 Grand Slam finals, and has earned more money playing on tennis courts worldwide than any player to come before him.

But is he the best ever? No. That distinction belongs to “Pistol” Pete Sampras.

Federer is a jack-of-all-trades-style player. A more versatile tennis star has never existed. But Sampras had a total mastery of his first and second serve, the forehand, and the “chip-and-charge.”

Not to mention, there has never been a more deadly overhead smash in the history of tennis.

The iconic “air-Sampras” shot could serve as the Jerry West-esque image for professional tennis. Yes, his game had more holes than Federer’s, but Federer lacks the dominance of his own skill set that Sampras had at his prime.

And speaking of primes, no player in open history has enjoyed the dominant prime that was 1993-1998, when Sampras was the top-ranked player in the world for a record six-consecutive years.

Critics often said Sampras was boring, that he didn’t seem to care, and that tennis wasn’t really his life. But I’ll take the ice-cold demeanor of Sampras over the tear-ridden sob fest that was Federer’s loss to rival Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open. Someone needs to tell Federer that public tears are only allowed in pro sports when you win, not when you get taken out by your biggest rival. It may humanize you and help move merchandise, but it does little to strike fear into the competition.

The big Sampras tear moment came when he was playing in the quarterfinals of the 1995 Australian Open, when he learned his coach, Tim Gullikson, was dying of a brain tumor. A fan yelled “Do it for coach,” and Sampras broke down.

Not to mention, Sampras is married to Bridgette Wilson, or as you may better know her, Veronica Vaughn from Billy Madison. That alone puts him higher in the pantheon of greatness than Federer.

— by Sean Morgan


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