A couple of days ago, I was in a bar somewhere in New York City. This bar wasn’t your trendy, place-to-be-scene bar you see on television and in the movies. It wasn’t a bar where you have a bouncer out front that won’t let you in because you are wearing a hat. There were no long lines in front or beautiful women all decked out in short skirts and high heels. No cover charge. No bells and whistles go off when you see this place. The bar looked like the sun never shined in it. The few patrons that did inhabit it were scattered throughout on bar stools and looked as if their ex-wives took everything. This was a bar where you can think about all the mistakes that you have made in your life. This was the perfect place to be miserable at and just drown your sorrows away.
They had one (not a flat screen) television hanging above the ugliest bartender in New York City. And on that television, they were showing Roger Federer playing some guy in one of the early rounds of this years Wimbledon.
I was sipping on my pint of Stella and occasionally catching every other point of the match. An old guy sitting a few seats away from me saw that I was somewhat attentive to the tennis on TV. He must have been one of those lonely guys who just likes to talk to strangers about nothing. I could sense he was about to try to start a conversation with me. He leaned over in my direction and said, “Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time!” Because it looked as if life had won its war with him, I decided to make his day and respond to his silly statement. “No, he’s not!”
I always hear tennis commentators on TV giving their opinions on who is the best ever to play. Everyone has their own reasons on who they think. Some say that their player won on all surfaces in one year. Others give the argument that their player is the best of all time, because they won the most major titles. The bottom line is that when people argue about this, the same three or four players come up. Like anything else, I know everything, and I have unalienable proof of who the best player is to have ever picked up a tennis racquet. Now, before I name my guy, let’s go over a list of the usual suspects.
All I hear from old, cranky, out-of-date tennis instructors is how great of a player Rod Laver was. “Blah … blah … blah … Rod Laver this, Rod Laver that … blah … blah … blah, Rod Laver in his prime would still be the best today … blah … blah … blah.” Now since I was born after the Civil War, I have never seen Rod Laver hit a tennis ball. So I decided one day to give these pros, who still teach close-stance forehands, a chance. I went on YouTube and did a search for Rod Laver. Fortunately, they did invent some type of camera back then, and I was able to see Rod Laver play in his “so-called” prime. I was mildly impressed, and bored, all at the same time. I watched the same point being played over and over again, match after match. A lot of chipping and charging. A lot of lobs and a lot boredom. As soon as I saw the 20th slice forehand approach, I had to take my Internet travels elsewhere. The bottom line is this … yes, Rod Laver won all the major slams in one year, twice in his career. But, that was back in the 1700s. The game has evolved so much since then. Today, he would have problems making the starting lineup for some Division 1 college teams. If you think otherwise, then you have no idea about anything involving our sport. I’m sorry, but Rod Laver isn’t the greatest tennis player to ever live! In fact, he’s far from it!
Every time commentators talk about the best, Pete Sampras always comes up. Pete won 14 Grand Slam titles throughout his career and made a ton of money in the process. He revolutionized tennis and impressed everyone when he first came onto the scene with his 120 mph serves. Even with all this said, you cannot say that Pete Sampras is the best of all time, because he never did anything on clay. He had about as much success on clay as I would have with a bar full of sober Playboy Playmates. So, with this simple fact alone, you cannot say that Pete is the greatest tennis player ever to live … I’m sorry. And just a short decade later, those 120 mph serves have become the norm with all professional players. Pretty much, every player now serves at those speeds and beyond. Even Venus Williams has been clocked around that speed. So, sorry Pete … it’s not you either, pal!
Roger Federer is a great player. He wins a lot. Every casual tennis fan says that they love the way he plays and he makes it all look so easy. Roger probably will one day overtake Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles (he is tied with Pete at 14, as I am writing this). Who knows … he might even end up with 30 some day, when all is said and done. But it won’t matter … and here’s why. You cannot say that Roger Federer is the best player of all time when he gets owned by the same player over and over again. Raphael Nadal’s 13-7 record against Federer is absolute domination. It would cost a lot of money in Amsterdam to be dominated in this kind of fashion. It’s impossible to say that Roger Federer is the best of all time, when a guy, in his era, beats him in every big match. Although, I do find it somewhat entertaining watching Federer cry like a little girl at award ceremonies, while Nadal is there staring into the camera slightly cross-eyed, holding up a trophy. Federer is a special talent, but he isn’t the greatest of all time.
And the winner is …
Now, I know for a fact, who is the greatest player ever to play the sport of tennis. I have documented proof that this player is the greatest tennis talent to walk this green Earth. This man is not Federer, Sampras, Nadal, Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, or even Laver (laughing to myself, again). He’s not any of these players. I’m surprised this player that I have chosen isn’t on everyone’s list when they talk about the greatest to ever live … the greatest to ever play … the greatest to ever pick up a racquet. Before I reveal this person to the world, let’s get back to that bar in New York City.
As I sat in that dive bar, I waited to see how this old guy sitting next to me was going to respond after being told that Roger Federer wasn’t the best of all time. He said nothing. He probably thought this was another guy at a bar, who just didn’t want to be bothered. I went back to my pint and continued watching the TV. As time passed, I was hoping that he moved on to talking to other people sitting around us. But that wasn’t the case. As I gestured to the bartender that looked like Dirk Nowitzki in a tube top, I could hear this old man not letting what I said get away without some type of explanation. “So who is the greatest tennis player of all time?” He paused and followed his previous statement with, “If not Federer … then who?”
As another Stella was placed on an already wet napkin in front of me, I turned my head so that I could look this poor guy in the eye. I knew he wouldn’t believe what I was about to say, but I didn’t care. He had to know. I squinted my eyes and made my voice a little bit raspier, so I could sound a little bit cooler when I revealed this truth to him. The time was right, and he had to know. Without any more hesitation, I said the truth, “Oliver Rochus.” The old man stared at me for a while then responded with, “Who?”
Oliver Rochus turned pro in 1999 at the age of 18, after growing up playing tennis in Belgium. He reached a career high singles ranking of number 24 in the world in 2005. Over his tennis career, he has wins over Marat Safin (former number one), Marcelo Rios (former number one), Carlos Moya (former number one), Rafael Nadal (current number one) and Novak Djokovic (current number three). In June 2006, he lost to Roger Federer 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 in Halle, Germany. Oliver had four match points in that match, but wasn’t able to convert any of them. A week later, Federer went on to dominate Wimbledon only to lose one set during the entire tournament.
Rochus also proves his versatility to play on all surfaces. He has gotten to at least the third or fourth round of every major tournament. The old man takes this information in as I lectured him with my knowledge of the sport. He stirs his drink with a thin straw and speaks, “Who cares? These aren’t amazing results. Your guy had some good wins, but there’s no way he’s the best ever to play.”
“Yes he is,” I replied. “Because he’s five feet, five and a half inches tall!”
This is the reason why Oliver Rochus is the greatest player to ever pick up a racquet. He is able to compete in an age where, if you want to be successful, you have to be at least six feet tall. If you are not at least six feet tall, there is no chance of making it in this sport as a professional.
Marat Safin six feet, four inches
Rafael Nadal six feet, one inch
Novak Djokovic six feet, one inch
Roger Federer six feet, one inch
Pete Sampras six feet, one inch
The list goes on and on. The game has evolved so much with power and where the trajectory of the ball is coming from all over the court. And our friend Oliver, has been able to beat these players and make a great living in this sport, despite the fact that he’s sometimes a foot smaller then his opponents.
Do you think Roger Federer would be getting these results if he were the same size as Oliver? Ha ha ha! I think not! Roger probably would have long quit tennis and would have a job today fixing Rolex’s in a watch shop somewhere in Zurich. Or what about the great Pete Sampras? How do you think Pete would have done if he were five feet, five inches? How do you think those big serves would have been? Ha ha ha! Pete wouldn’t have had a chance! He’d be pushing a hot dog cart down 7th Avenue, if he wasn’t six feet, one inch!
As I unloaded all this knowledge I had about Oliver Rochus on this old guy, I could tell he was zoning out. The only response he made was one of those exhaling breath laughs, after I was done educating him. But, I didn’t care. I knew I was right, and I didn’t have to get this guy’s approval. We stopped talking to each other and we both went back to our drinks.
The bottom line is this … Oliver Rochus is the greatest, pound for pound, tennis player ever to hit a ball. He is the greatest of all time and people have to know. When the U.S. Open comes around every summer, I will be right there on the back courts watching his matches until he retires. I suggest all of you do the same. Forget about wasting your time, going into the stadium to watch Serena Williams play. If you have any brains in your head, you would watch Oliver work his magic on Court 8. This way, you will be able to tell your grandkids that you watched the greatest tennis player ever to live … in person. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!