Let the debate begin! Who is the greatest player of all time?
  | By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff

This year, Roger Federer has joined some exclusive clubs. After winning the French Open back in May, Federer became only the sixth player to win all four Grand Slam Championships. Then in July, he defeated Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon Finals to win his record 15th Grand Slam title. The win catapulted him ahead of previous record holder Pete Sampras who had 14 Grand Slam titles under his belt. So, does this make Roger Federer the best ever?

Any argument on who is the best ever is far from airtight. Many have differing opinions including some of the greats themselves …

Rod Laver …
“I don’t think you can compare eras” “You can be the dominant performer of your time, but I don’t think anyone has the title of best ever”



Andre Agassi …
“What Laver did is godlike. To win all of them (the majors) in the same year twice … how do you argue with that? Roger Federer’s numbers are hard to disagree with.”



John McEnroe …
“Yeah, I believe Federer is the best player ever.”




Roger Federer …
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know who was the greatest of all time, but I’m definitely happy to be right up there, that’s for sure.”



Pete Sampras …
“I didn’t think it would take seven years to tie it (his record).” Sampras contends that the French Open title win for Federer confirms him as the best ever.



While Federer has the Grand Slam trophies to back up the argument that he is the best, detractors are quick to point out the holes in that argument. The biggest knock on Federer is his perceived lack of competition. While Sampras battled the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Boris Becker, Stephen Edberg, and more, Federer’s opponents, through no fault of his own, have not been as challenging. One opinion could be that Roger just makes them looks bad, by handling them so easily.

However, his main rival has been Rafael Nadal and Federer has not faired so well against the world’s number two-ranked player. Federer has dominated his era, however he is only 7-13 against his top foe Nadal.
As Andre Agassi points out, “Roger’s numbers are hard to disagree with. And then you have a guy who’s beaten him almost twice as much. That sounds like an Achilles heel.”

And as John McEnroe said, “Nadal has a winning record against him, so I guess there is a minor argument to be made that how can you be the best ever if you don’t have a winning record against every player (in your era). But the results of these matches may have been different had they played in different circumstances.

There is also the “surface argument” when determining the best of all-time. Each surface hard, clay or grass play very differently and most players favor one over the others. At one time, three of the four majors were played on grass. Now two are played on hard courts with one each on clay and grass. Agassi pointed out that Federer’s consistency on all surfaces stands out in his greatness. Federer’s 20 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam finals is a testament to his all-around game on all surfaces, and is twice as long as the second best mark. Pete Sampras, is one player who would’ve greatly been assisted by playing more majors on grass, as it perfectly suits his game.

Sampras’s former coach, Paul Annacone, said in reference to Pete’s grass court dominance: “How many majors would Pete have won if he were playing three out of four majors on grass?” Annacone also made the argument that it should not always be about the majors when deciding who the top player is all-time. He believes that Pete’s unprecedented six-year run of finishing the season number one in the world is more impressive than his 14 Grand Slam titles.

Rule changes play an important role in determining the best ever as well. Rod Laver (The Rocket) would certainly have been in line for more major championships had he been eligible to play between 1963-1967. However, before 1968, only amateurs were eligible for the majors. This cost Laver ample opportunities to win more titles.
Clearly, there are many variables that come into play when comparing eras and determining the best player ever. There is no right or wrong answer. The debate is good for the sport world and fun for tennis enthusiasts, but in the end, there are more questions than answers.

The sport of tennis has many greats who have had tennis enthusiasts cheering for decades. While fans, media and the players themselves may never agree on a sole player as “the best ever,” one thing those players can agree on is that being mentioned in the same sentence together is a honor and us fans can agree that they have supplied us with many great tennis memories.


A closer look … Career major titles

Number of titles  Player
15 Roger Federer
14 Pete Sampras
12 Roy Emerson
11 Rod Laver
11 Bjorn Borg
10 Bill Tilden
8 Fred Perry
8 Ken Rosewall
8 Ivan Lendl
8 Jimmy Connors
8 Andre Agassi