Can we all just admit that Roger Federer is the athletic Gold Standard?

Federer after winning his 18th grand slam at the 2017 Australian Open. photo by Thomas Peter, Reuters

Roger Federer is not a new story, he had been dominating Tennis for 18 years. He is currently the world number 5 and the current Australian Open champion. He is also 35 years old and still fighting the effects of father time. So why bother writing about any of this? With so much emphasis placed on Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi and Derek Jeter, I feel its refreshing to know that Roger is still out there doing his thing traveling the world with his wife and 4 kids.

Think about it, he has been the face of sport that is popular in every part of the world. He has massive endorsements with Nike, Mercedes, Credit Suisse, Rolex and Moet and Chandon. He has avoided controversy and stayed out of trouble. He has beaten Pete Sampras on Grass in 2001, Rafael Nadal on Clayin 2009 and Andre Agassi at the US Open in 2005. His career arc is not a bell curve, nor does it mimic a heartbeat, its damn near Himalaya-like with its high peaks followed by the only slightest of falls before vaulting to the top again.

Federer winning Wimbledon for the 7th time in 2012 photo: Getty

Can we all just admit that Federer is the athletic gold standard? Lebron James for all his physicality plays in a sport that defines success in championships and is increasingly trending towards super-teams where it is now necessary for no less than 3 ALL-PRO talents join together to win. Tom Brady (like Lennon-McCartney) fair or unfairly will never been seperated from his coach. Lionel Messi is facing tax evasion charges. With the exception of Messi, none of those great athletes are in sports that dominate on a global level.

Now i must admit, i am no physical specimen, at 5'8 and 130 lbs. I would literally sacrifice loved ones to have the talent and the genetics of any professional athlete, so this isn’t an attempt to shit on someone’s career. They are all legends with serious bonifides worthy of the Hall of Fame. Nor is this jealousy talking. Why are we not hearing more of Federer in the discussion when it comes to greatest athlete alive? Hes been dominate for an extended period of time. Even out of his prime years hes been Top 5 or better. Never had injury issues. Owns most of the tennis records. The face of his sport across multiple generations. Has an excellent foundation to help others. The only knock against him, is that he hasn’t been the voice of social issues like Ali. He’s surprisingly neutral and for good reason. Last year, he accepted a jersey from the Indian Cricket team ahead of the great rivalry match between India/Pakistan and his Pakastani fans were NOT happy about that. It was one of the rare times I’ve seen him take a side on a controversial issue and whether it was accidental or not, it was clear that he cant do so without carefully considering any position he takes. He is also on the players council for the ATP tour and he has consistantly kept the status quo in regards to player rankings, injury procedures and tournament calenders despite recent calls for change and innovation. Changes that would help the top 32 players but might hinder the lower ranks much to the irritation of his top 5 colleagues.

Nadal consoles a emotional Federer after an epic 2009 Australian Open Final Photo: AP

Some will argue that how can he be the greatest if he cant even beat Rafael Nadal. While its true that the man has been damn near impossible for Roger, I dont consider that a mark against him. Every tennis player has a type of player that bothers them. Rafa has trouble with tall, flat hitting ball crushers (tsonga, Del Potro, Soderling) Sampras could not win the French (the surface mitigated his serve/volley) Murray cannot beat Federer or anyone that gets under his skin, Djokovic will lose those who can tight rope defense and offense (nishikori, nadal, federer, del potro) Its a never ending struggle of rock, paper, scissors, however Federer only seems to lose to Nadal and not a “Nadal-type”. Nadal defense and stamina is the perfect foil for Federers agressiveness. Also i would argue that the reason those two have such great and epic matches is because of they are so incredibly evenly matched that it doesnt take much to sway a match one way or the other. Nadal is famously left handed and that lefty slice is terrible to deal with creating a very real advantage in the AD court. Most of the important points in a match will come when the serving in that direction so its not unfair to say that a slight advantage is all it takes to win more than you lose and believe me, Nadal has abused that advantage for 12 years. His slice out wide to Federers weaker backhand has been the single and only battle plan and it has worked very well. Only recently has Federer adapted and started to win matches against Nadal again.

I won’t get into career statistics because that would lead to an impossible comparing of sports (18 grand slams to 5 super bowls or 7 straight NBA finals) but theres fun in comparing so lets go with style of play. In tennis, Federer is a traditionalist. He plays with a devestating combo of old and new school. He would blend in during any era in Tennis history. For example he plays a one handed backhand that is dated and underpowered by todays standards. He also attacks the net that is also decidely old fashioned in todays modern game and if to prove my point he showed up to center court wimbledon in a white outfit of long trousers and vest like it was 1920. When you couple that with a revolutionary, all-time great forehand and court movement, even at 35 is still faster than the rest of the tour, makes him an upstoppable force on the tennis court. If he was in the NBA i would compare him to if Jerry West shot like steph curry. The NFL would have a close comparison of old/new school in peyton manning but they wouldnt allow him to wear Unita’s High tops so… MLB would have the closest in Derek Jeter, Jeter in the no.2 in pinstripes at yankees stadium would fit in any era.

So what im trying to say is can we not only add Federer to the list but move him to the top?