Roger Federer won his seventh Wimbledon title in July and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. While the win -- the 17th Grand Slam title of his career -- helped solidify Federer's status as the greatest tennis player ever, as we head into this year's U.S. Open, it's time to take the conversation to a new level.
Here is why Roger Federer is the greatest athlete of all time:
The Record - First and foremost, there's the career record. Seventy-six singles titles, 17 Grand Slam titles, an 863-193 overall record, and 292 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings. Federer has more Grand Slam titles than anyone in history, and he has the record for most weeks ranked No. 1. He is 17-7 in Grand Slam finals, including 7-1 at Wimbledon.
The Dominance - While he's still on top today, nothing can compare to what he did between 2004 and 2008. No athlete has ever dominated his or her sport like Federer did during those years. Here is what he accomplished: He was the Wimbledon champion from 2003-2007, the U.S. Open champion from 2004-2008, and the Australian Open champion in 2004, 2006, and 2007. He would go on to win the French Open and Wimbledon in 2009, the Australian Open again in 2010, and Wimbledon again this year. The records he has set -- including ones not listed here -- are incredible. At 30 years old, he's back on top of the tennis world, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
The Competition - All great champions must beat the best in order to rise to the top of their sport. Jordan beat Magic. Magic beat Bird. Bird beat Magic. Federer started his run all the way back in 2001 when he defeated Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Through the years, he's had classic matches against Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, among others. He beat Nadal in the Wimbledon finals in 2006 and 2007, and topped Djokovic in the U.S. Open finals in 2007. (He beat Djokovic in the semifinals of Wimbledon this year.) The three of them have won 32 of the last 36 majors, and 28 of the last 29. (Nadal has won 11 and Djokovic has won 5.) So it's not as if Federer has cruised to any of his titles. The competition is fierce. (To be fair, both Nadal and Djokovic have winning records against Federer.)
The Conditioning - Tennis, more than any other sport, requires that you be in peak condition, both physically and mentally. It is rare that you find a guy like Federer who not only remains on top, but who continues to dominate, for so long. We are not talking about someone who is mediocre over a long period of time. Federer has stayed on top of his sport for almost a decade. Beginning in 2004, he was No. 1 for 237 consecutive weeks. He made it back to No. 1 this year, and over his career he's now spent almost six years there. Pete Sampras (286), Ivan Lendl (270), and Jimmy Connors (268) are the only other players who even approach that feat. Nadal's been there for 102 weeks, and Djokovic for 53. It's hard to stay on top in any sport. In tennis, it's the hardest.
The Individual - Michael Jordan didn't win until the Bulls surrounded him with talent. Derek Jeter had the greatest closer ever to come in and pitch the ninth. And Tom Brady played on one side of the ball while a great defense played on the other. When he takes the court, Roger Federer has Roger Federer. Down a set in this year's Wimbledon finals, Federer couldn't turn to anyone for help. He won the next three sets. That is what makes tennis so demanding. It's an individual sport. Players succeed or fail on their own. And more times than not, Federer has succeeded. Take, for example, what he accomplished between 2004 and 2006 alone. In each of those three years he had 10 or more tournament wins, 34 singles titles, a 94.3-percent victory rate, and he won 69.4 percent of tournaments he played in. In 2006, he reached the finals in 16 of the 17 tournaments he played in. In 2006, he won 12 tournaments. And he's done it all by himself.
The Spotlight (or lack thereof) - Even after his historic win at this year's Wimbledon, the sports world focused its attention mostly on baseball and football. The fact of the matter is that tennis gets very little attention on a day-to-day basis. You hear about it during the Grand Slams, but even then the sport doesn't get the coverage it deserves. As a result, Federer's accomplishments have largely been ignored. If Federer played in the NFL, we'd hear a lot more about him. Because it's tennis, and because Federer doesn't crave the attention, his entire career has largely played out under the radar. That is a shame, but it doesn't take away from his greatness.
Charles Costello has been following tennis since the 1980s. His favorite tournament is the U.S. Open, though he follows the sport throughout the year.