In Tennis, Who’s The Greatest Ever?

For the past 21 years, I’ve followed the sport. I remember—long before cable TV was plugged to our homes—trooping to The Boulevard and Cafe Valeriano along Osmeña Blvd. to watch (beamed “live” via a huge satellite dish) Boris Becker diving for volleys to collect his three Wimbledon trophies. In the late 1980s, I recall seeing Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg in the “Fire and Ice II” showdown at the Araneta Coliseum. Then in ‘99, I had the opportunity to watch Andre Agassi lift the U.S. Open trophy in New York. And, just two months ago in Malaysia, I had the rare moment of shaking hands with Pete Sampras. Who, among all, do I consider the best of all time?

None of the above. Not Lendl with his three French and U.S. Open titles. Not Agassi, who’s captured the Olympic gold plus all the four tennis majors. And not even Sampras, the man I idolized the whole 1990s decade.

The best ever? Roger Federer.

Because while I used to call Sampras’ game as “impeccable”—he owned the game’s best serve and could rifle forehands like a hired assassin—then I declare Federer’s game to be this: FLAWLESS. That’s right. There’s no flaw in Roger’s game. While Sampras’ backhand wasn’t a weapon—plus, he couldn’t rally from the baseline for more than 10 shots—Federer’s game is supreme and unblemished.

He can serve 135-mph aces. He can slice that backhand like a Japanese slices sushi. He can catch that orb in midair and smack it to the corner. He can sprint to the net, retrieve a drop shot, jump for a towering lob, slam-dunk that smash… In my 21 years of studying tennis, no one grips the racket and commands the strings to feather that ball like Roger Federer.

Which brings me to tomorrow, the start of the Australian Open. Will Federer win it? Wasn’t he stricken with stomach virus? Will he pull through? Yes, yes, yes. Why? Take a look at these…

1. Since Feb. 2, 2004, Roger’s been world no. 1 for a record 206 consecutive weeks—that’s four years next month.

2. He’s won 11 of the last 15 Grand Slam singles titles. Not even his fellow Nike endorser Tiger Woods can lay claim to such a winning percentage (73 percent).

3. His head-to-head record against the world’s top eight? Laughable. Though Nadal (world no.2) still leads their head-to-head, 8-6, the last five of seven matches were won by Federer. The rest of the Top 8? Novak Djokovic (world no.3): five wins (Federer), one loss. Nikolay Davydenko (4), it’s 11-0. David Ferrer (5), it’s 8-0. Fernando Gonzalez (7), it’s 10-1. Richard Gasquet (8), it’s 6-1. And, of course, the most infamous record of all: against recent Davis Cup hero Andy Roddick, Federer has won 15, lost one. Excluding Nadal, if we combine all the win-loss records, it’s Federer with 55 wins, only four losses. Can you believe that dominance?

And so picking Federer to win the Australian Open is as easy an option as, say, choosing Manny Pacquiao as RP’s greatest sportsman today. It’s undisputed.

But you want to know what motivates Federer the most? Two words: Pete Sampras. Lately, the two have become buddies. They played exhibition matches in Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Macau—and, this March 10 at the Madison Square Garden in NYC, they’ll play again. But the extra motivator for Federer? Sampras’ 14-majors record. Roger has 12 and—with four majors this year—he has a good chance of surpassing his friend’s record. Plus, with a victory at the French Open (where he’s been runner-up twice), by years-end we might crown the Swiss as tennis’ all time best.

GOOD NEWS! Yes, the Australian Open will be shown live. Starting at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, the first round of matches will be aired over Star Sports—and this will go on the whole day. Then, at 4:30 p.m. (RP time)—that’s 7:30 p.m. in Melbourne, with their three-hour time difference—the night matches start. Enjoy watching!

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Roger is a phenom in tennis like Tiger in golf. Great players come and go but I believe I will never live to see another Roger and Tiger in my lifetime.

  2. Hey John!
    Yea, Federer seems to be the Greatest Tennis Player of All Time. I cant watch the tournament though(school). And although I want Roddick or Djokovic to win, I have a feeling Federer is gonna win this. But who knows, the tournament hasn’t even started yet, we may see the start of the next tennis great. Who? I dont know, but I have a feeling someone’s gonna come up big in this Australian Open.

  3. Nice article John. I’m glad tennis season has started again. I’m tired of watching reruns in the Tennis Channel.

  4. mr. pages, good day! i’m a big fan of nadal and even if federer is almost sure to win the australian open, i’m still hopeful that rafa will be the one to raise the trophy in the end!! GO RAFA 🙂

  5. everybody has his/her opinions….for you john, federer is the best… but for me, it’s sampras…. he is 36 and federer is 26 but then he still has what it takes to be the greatest player on the planet….. beat federer in their showdown…..whhaaaa……. i was able to watch it and federer was a little boy compared to sampras, well pete just have injuries you know but if he has hewitt legs, wow what a player he would be in the history!!!!!!!

  6. You are spot on! Federer is the best ever. It’s not so much that he’s always winning but it’s how he plays the game. He has no weakness and he has all the shots and more you can only imagine, beautiful and genius. We are so lucky to witness and experience such a gifted athlete that only comes once in a lifetime.

    To Marc – Just so you know, Federer DOES NOT wear a watch in a real match. I think you saw that he wore his shiny Rolex when he played Sampras. It was an exhibition and Federer had to let him win one otherwise who would still want to buy tickets to their next exhibition at Madison Square Garden in March after a whitewash? It’s all business. Sorry it’s just a matter of time before Federer equals or breaks Sampras’s record. Maybe you should start dealing with it now to lessen the pain WHEN it happens . . . this year. Peace!

  7. It’s hard to argue between Federer and Sampras. Excluding Rod Laver (who won two Grand Slams in 1962 and 1969), it’s clear the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) title is narrowed down between Roger and Pete. I used to be the biggest Sampras fan but after dissecting Federer’s game… there’s no one that matches his Tiger Woods-like talent.

  8. I go for federer, too. i was a fan of the serve-and-volley game until roger came along. he’s got unbelievable skills and i just couldn’t see any major weakness. right now, his worst enemy is himself. but he hardly self-destructs. i was even more impressed after he survived that 4-and-a-half hour duel with (tipsaperovic,, dont know the spelling). nadal would have to wait for his turn. its still roger’s time.

  9. Dear Tennis Lovers
    My name is Abi (F K BIARD) I just arrived in the Philippines yesterday! FIRST TIME EVER IN YOUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY! I am French, a missionary for many years and joining a beautiful mission here in Cebu called Channel of Hope and will be living here (check the web site). For the last 9 years I was a volunteer and a missionary in West Africa / Senegal. It is quite a challenge for me to come here but I already feel in my heart and soul that it wont be long before I feel ‘at home’ here and my heart is already ‘ticking’! Now what I would really appreciate from you is some infos about where I could play tennis? I live in Cebu City / Guadalupe/ Happy Valley where the team is based. Thank you for taking the time to read this note and for answering me as soon as you can and I pray we will meet someday! God Bless you! Abi

  10. i am so happy that federer won at least a few games. even though i klike him so much i also love nadal.i even have nadals autograph!gotta go i have a tennis team at 5:30


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