Year after year, tennis writers and commentators go on about Federer and his 16 majors. At tournaments around the world, Federer gets automatic centre court/prime time billing, sometimes ahead of Djokovic and Nadal, and he has an army of loyal fans who won't hear a word spoken against him, and insist that he is the greatest player of all time without question.
But does the number 16 really have as much relevance when you consider how he got there?
Look at the era in which Federer won most of his majors: a poor era where he was beating reasonably good (but not great) or distinctly average players in semis and finals: Philippoussis, Hewitt, Roddick, Safin, Davydenko, Gonzalez, Haas. For goodness sake, he even had Jonas Bjorkman (no disrespect-a great doubles player-but come on) as a semi-final opponent at Wimbledon one year.
Many refer to the AO match against Roddick in 2007 as one of Federer’s finest. But that sums it up really – watch that match again (it’s on youtube). Roddick charging into the net like a nutcase off a terrible approach shot all the time, and Federer made to look very good by pulling off straightforward passing shots. The era 2003-2007 was pretty average, all things considered.
When he finally came up against serious opposition, (Nadal on clay since 2005, Nadal & Djokovic on other surfaces from 2008 onwards) he hasn’t been able to live with it, and has consistently fallen short. How on earth can people be so ignorant to call Roger the GOAT when his record in majors against Nadal is an appalling 2-8 (and it should really be 1-9, as Rafa was denied the 2007 Wimbledon Crown thanks to some appalling scheduling, with Nadal made to play Soderling across five days while Fed got a walkover into the SF and had a nice little rest).
If you trail one of your main rivals 8-2 in majors, you are not the GOAT, period.
But it’s not just Nadal. Since Djokovic got his game together in 2008, he leads Federer 5-3 in slam encounters, plus the Serb had big chances to win the USO final 2007, sadly choking at crucial moments in every set.
Oh, and when Fed has fallen short since 2008, there’s always been an excuse. Against Djokovic in AO 2008 he was ill, Against Nadal in Wimbledon that year, it was the bad light. Against Nadal in AO 2009 he wept like a baby. Against Soderling in RG 2010 he blamed the weather and heavy conditions. Against Berdych a few weeks later at Wimbledon, he said “I’ve been nursing a back and leg injury for a couple of weeks” despite saying after the Falla five setter
that he had absolutely no injury problems at all. Against Tsonga the following year he said his opponent just took a few swings and got lucky. It’s really sad, but predictable, that he seems to have believed his own hype and couldn’t accept that he is simply nowhere near the best of his generation
Look at who Djokovic and Nadal have beaten in the latter stages en route to their majors – each other, Federer and Murray – outstanding players compared with the likes of Roddick, Hewitt, Haas, Davydenko. Since 2008 Nadal hasn’t been hit off the court by Berdych, Tsonga, Soderling etc except RG2009 when he was clearly injured and suffering personal issues.
Look at it this way – the great William Renshaw won seven Wimbledon titles, William Larned and Richard Sears each won seven US Open titles. Do tennis historians rank them as up there with Sampras and Laver in all-time great discussions? Why not?
Because it’s about quality not quantity.