Roger Federer proved sporting greatness is about additional than just profitable

Roger Federer’s retirement from aggressive tennis suggests the sunshine is starting off to set on a golden generation of men’s tennis, underpinned by the extraordinary feats of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Information of his retirement has reignited discussion about no matter whether he is not just a great of men’s tennis but the GOAT: the finest of all time.

For several, Federer stands by yourself at the apex of this and just about every other technology. But this check out is not born out by the numbers. Federer has received fewer grand slams than Nadal and Djokovic, spent fewer weeks at entire world variety a single than Djokovic, and won fewer ATP titles than Jimmy Connors,

Novak Djokovic, one particular of Federer’s best opponents/
PA Photographs / Alamy

Nevertheless, uncooked quantities are an insufficient evaluate of sporting achievements. For one factor, they obscure the result of situations that disrupt equality of chance throughout the generations. For example, the quantities do not reflect the recent COVID interruption (and subsequent exclusion from level of competition of the unvaccinated Djokovic), nor do they capture the transitional period of time from novice to professional tennis.

How a lot of grand slam titles would Rod Laver have won experienced he not been banned from grand slam events for 5 a long time (1963-1967) adhering to his departure from the expert tour, Laver gained 11 grand slams for the duration of his career, which include a calendar grand slam (successful all four slams in the similar year) the two prior to, and next, his ban. The achievement of even one particular calendar grand slam has eluded Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Even if we had a honest and accurate indicates to look at sporting accomplishment across generations, this would not settle the question of greatness. For sporting greatness is not reducible to sporting results. This distinction may be what Federer lovers allude to when they refer to him as the GOAT. Somewhat than nostalgia for a time when the numbers stacked up in his favour, they might be pointing to a broader notion of sporting greatness.

What will make sporting greatness?

We really should embrace a much more nuanced comprehending of sporting greatness than a single limited to rankings and titles. Victory is 1 sporting value amongst numerous. To run with the limited perspective overlooks important sporting values ​​that had been the hallmark of Federer’s job: excellence, aesthetics and integrity.


Federer performed “total tennis”. He possessed the entire repertoire of capabilities and capacities – elements of excellence – that the sport assessments and will make possible. Through his key, he could serve-and-volley to gain factors promptly or grind out extensive rallies from guiding the baseline.

As he entered his mid-thirties, he reinvented his sport to perform on the baseline and get the ball earlier. Whilst his rivals relied on executing a narrower set of “excellences” supremely well, Federer tailored his match to no matter what the circumstance demanded by showing unique aspects at various moments.


The terrific players do not just perfect the sport as it is, they change our knowledge of what it can be. When aesthetics is central to a activity this kind of as gymnastics, it is incidental to tennis. An unsightly stage counts for just as much as a elegant place ungainly strokes can be as helpful as stylish strokes.

On the other hand, Federer’s style was uniquely satisfying to the eye, He brought tennis to new aesthetic heights with the grace and fluidity of his strokes and his sleek explosive athleticism. He confirmed that effectiveness need not appear at the price tag of beauty. His design and style eradicated the distinction amongst racket and player in his hand, the racket was an extension, not an addition. Federer disclosed new aesthetic alternatives in tennis even though by no means compromising on the pursuit of excellence.


Last but not least, Federer’s greatness also lies partly in his ethics. His integrity as an athlete was most obviously apparent in how he executed himself on the court, how he managed his rivalries, and, most likely most memorably, how he competed versus his best rival.

For one so acquired with winning, Federer knew how to drop effectively. Full his profession of additional than 1,700 matches, he never retired from a match, under no circumstances feigned or submitted to harm as a contest commenced to slip absent. He was awarded the ATP sportsmanship award 13 situations, an accolade voted on by his fellow industry experts on the men’s tour.

At each individual stage of his vocation, he cultivated relations of reciprocal respect and appreciation with his most important rivals, whether or not it was Andy Roddick in his early period, Nadal in his middle interval, or Djokovic in his late period. Via his rivalry with Nadal in particular, we witnessed levels of competition at its best – a mutual quest for excellence in which both equally gamers laid down a problem to each and every other, and in so doing prolonged each other’s talents and improved one particular an additional in the system.

Tennis players Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal laughing together on court after a match.
Federer and Rafael Nadal had been intense rivals who highly regarded and improved just one one more.
Michael Cullen / Alamy

Whilst their complementary strengths and weaknesses mixed to make for persuasive contests, the moral good quality of the Federer/Nadal rivalry also stands out. They showed us how to compete very well. They competed as fiercely as two athletes can, for the maximum stakes in their activity, however neither resorted to the morally doubtful indicates of dishonest or gamesmanship.

Even when chasing heritage, they proved that competition does not have to be cutthroat. Their instance puts the lie to any cynical perspective of level of competition according to which rivals ought to be enemies and every single opportunity for gain must be seized. In doing so, Federer and Nadal have performed a service not just to tennis but to activity.

A black and white image of Australian tennis player Rod Laver holding the Wimbledon trophy.
Australian Rod Laver is thought of to be a person of the greats of men’s tennis.
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy

Federer has honored and deepened a custom of tennis that stretches again via his idol, Pete Sampras, and Sampras’s idol, Rod Laver. This tradition prizes attacking flair, fluid strategy and impeccable conduct. The modern day record of men’s tennis arguably commences with Laver, so it is suitable that the Federer period finishes this weekend at the Laver Cup.

In the remaining assessment, wherever Federer stands in the pantheon of good tennis champions is a lot less critical than how he broadened our being familiar with of sporting greatness itself. Results is aspect of it, but only part – excellence, aesthetics, and integrity also outline the greatest of all time.

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