Long after the marquee athletes of our generation have retired – when the stars of the 2000s have moved aside in favor of athletes whose names are not yet familiar to us – I often wonder who I’ll look back on as the best of the best, the premiere competitor of the early 21st century.
There are obvious choices that materialize; Tom Brady will have established himself as perhaps the greatest quarterback to play the game of football by the time he retires, Clayton Kershaw’s dominance on the mound will immortalize him among baseball’s greats, and LeBron James may only need contend with Michael Jordan for the title of the best to ever play basketball. It’s also important to include Michael Phelps in that conversation, the most decorated Olympian in the history of the games.
However, one name quietly looms over the rest: Roger Federer.
Federer has dominated the sport of tennis since he first won a major tournament with a Wimbledon title in 2003. His record of 18 Grand Slams – four more than Pete Sampras, the next closest in terms of major titles – easily establishes him as a legend of the sport.
His most recent – a victory over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open this Sunday – came at the age of 35, an unfathomable feat in a sport that takes a considerable toll on players’ knees, backs and shoulders over the course of a career.
What makes his long run of success so impressive is the one-on-one nature of tennis. Nobody carried Federer to those 18 Grand Slams – he singlehandedly ascended to the top of the sport. While Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Brady had Bill Belichick and LeBron had the help of Dwayne Wade in Miami, Federer has only ever had himself to rely on.
He’s done it in a crowded field, too. Amidst an era of tennis that features Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, Federer has amassed a career record of 1,087-245.
Despite over 1,000 career wins and winnings that exceed $100 million, he’s been an ambassador of the game, representing tennis with a sense of humility rarely seen in sports.
Sunday provided a prime example: Following his victory, he stated that – if ties could occur in tennis – he “would have been happy to accept a draw with (Nadal).”
He didn’t say that to pander to the crowd, either. It’s the Federer that fans have come to admire for what seems like an eternity.
Through his outstanding sportsmanship, unmatched tennis resume and grace on the court – which makes tennis look more like an art form than a game – Federer deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest to ever step foot in an athletic venue.
And by the time he retires he may just deserve the oft-disputed title of the greatest of all time.
Lucas Misera is the opinion editor, contact him at [email protected]