Who really is the greatest tennis player of all time?
Roger Federer has won more Grand Slams than any player in the history of the game and is on the verge of breaking the record for weeks spent ranked number one in the world. So why does Simon Mundie not necessarily consider him the greatest tennis player of all time?
In Tennis, the debate about who is the ‘Greatest of All Time’ generally tends to arrive at the following conclusion: the man who has won the highest number of Grand Slam titles has the most legitimate claim to the crown.
Since overtaking Sampras at Wimbledon last year, the polls have swung dramatically in Roger Federer’s favour. Of all his many records, the number of Major wins is now trotted out first.
He’s within just a few weeks of breaking Pete Sampras’ record for number of weeks ranked as world number one too, which would surely make him the record holder for the number of records held in sport.
Over the next couple of months, he could add another one to his roster; the most prolific winner of Masters Series titles, although on current form that looks unlikely.
The current record holder is a certain Andre Agassi, winner of an impressive 17 Masters Tournaments. Just one win behind the American is Federer, level with the man whose Masters record is in many ways the most impressive and who has the best chance of breaking Agassi’s record, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal returned to the winners circle in spectacular fashion in Monte Carlo, posting one of the most dominant tournament wins of his illustrious career. He proved that talk of his demise was premature, and on clay at least he is still very much the world’s best. And if he plays like that again, by the end of this week in Rome the chances are he will have equalled Agassi’s record. That’s all speculation though, so as it currently stands, which of the three should rightly be considered Master of the Masters?
While Agassi did win six of his 17 titles in Miami, that shouldn’t detract from his ability to win across the continents; he won seven out of the nine Masters Series tournaments including titles on clay, hard and indoors. Both Federer and Nadal have won at six of the events; although unsurprisingly the lion’s share of Nadal’s wins have come on clay. Since 2005, he’s needed a wheelbarrow to take home all his clay court Masters crowns each season; of his 16 Championship victories, 11 have come on the red stuff.
As you might expect, the ever versatile Federer has a more even spread, although surprisingly the single Masters tournament at which he has enjoyed the most success was in Hamburg, played on clay. That tournament was replaced as a Masters tournament in the calendar by Madrid last year, which Federer promptly won to kick-start his record-breaking year.
The most startling aspect of Nadal’s masters record and the one thing that makes him the Master of Masters in my eyes is how quickly he has accrued them. It took Andre Agassi 15 years to win his 17 titles; the first coming in 1990 and the last in 2004. Incredibly, It’s taken Nadal a mere five seasons to win his haul, a truly phenomenal achievement.
Federer won his first Masters crown in 2002, and his 16th seven years later, plus you can’t help but doubt whether he will win many more. He has underperformed in most of the recent Masters events and seems to struggle more and more in the three set format.
Nadal has no such problems, and as long as his knees don’t pack in he could end up with around 30 titles. Such is his dominance on clay, he could rightly expect to win at least two masters titles a season for the next four or five years. While Rafa is extremely unlikely to ever match Federer’s Grand Slam count, this is one significant record he will be able to call his own when the curtain has fallen on his career.
Unfortunately for Nadal, it is difficult to compare the Masters record to previous generations as the series didn’t exist during the pomp of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. The events were made mandatory only a few years ago; even the likes of Agassi and Sampras didn’t hesitate to skip events when they saw fit in the early days.
Nowadays, the top players can be trusted to turn up and play just as they do at the Grand Slams. Therefore, while the record that will surely be Nadal’s in the future doesn’t count for a huge amount yet, give it another couple of decades and people will look back at the Spaniard’s Masters achievements and realise how immense they were.