Is Roger Federer the greatest of all time?
Wednesday June 21, 2006
Yes - John Lloyd, former British No1
I believe in records, and obviously Roger doesn't have as many wins yet as some of the true greats, but if he can win the French Open and a couple of other slams he will really be there.
I've seen quite a few great players, and what they could do, Federer can do. He doesn't have a major weakness and because of his technique and the weapons he has at his disposal, some of the shots he can play defy the imagination. Andre Agassi, for example, said he was the best he ever played, that he could hurt you from every part of the court, and Andre's a pretty good judge of these things.
Federer has great speed, obviously, and his serve is great. It's not perhaps as potent as Pete Sampras's, say, in terms of the number of aces that he hits, but while he may not be unreturnable he sets himself up so well for his own second shot. His forehand is awesome and his backhand is very good - perhaps there might be a very slight vulnerability on the high backhand which Rafael Nadal alone can exploit. His volleying is very good and getting better. His variety is fantastic and his imagination is superb - he creates shots of his own and is capable of carrying them out. Physically he's in very good shape and he's deceptively powerful. His temper and his demeanour are very good as well.
At Wimbledon, I think he can beat Bjorn Borg's five titles in a row. The amazing thing is what the bookies are doing this year; the second favourite is out at 20-1. I don't remember that happening before; he could certainly be the greatest grass-court player of all.
He has a great will to win and he has great faith in his ability. He has an unnerving look, even if he's down a set. You look across the net at him you think, "Christ, he's coming after me, he's not worried". His attitude is very much "you've got to beat me". He fills courts everywhere he goes. People go to watch him because they expect genius, and they get it. There will be a couple of shots that defy the imagination.
I think it's fair to say that there is greater depth in the men's game as a whole now. In years past you had a couple of rounds to work your way into a tournament but you don't have that now, and to win the four major championships in this era is the mark of an exceptional player.
Therefore the French Open is the test for him, and he's much closer to the standard than Sampras ever was, for starters. Within that, the test is to beat Nadal. It's difficult to seem to be downgrading him by saying this - it's almost insulting, he's so good - but this year he played a flawless set and was wiping the floor with Nadal and then he had a sloppy game from 40-0 on his own serve and went into a slide.
In a way, in Paris, he was a victim of his own greatness. He needs to learn to hold back sometimes. I think he can do that and he will - and once he's won in Paris he will be the greatest ever player.
No - John Barrett, former Davis Cup player
Roger Federer is unquestionably the world's best player at the moment but it is premature to say he is the greatest ever. There are three ways of assessing greatness: on the number of titles won, on which titles are won, and in the way the tennis ball is hit.
Federer has a massive choice of shots, the same sort of range that Rod Laver had. Laver had all the other qualities that made him a great champion - a burning ambition to be the best, the superb physical condition of a natural athlete, breathtaking speed about the court, lightning fast reflexes, an instinctive ability to change tactics.
Federer seems to have those qualities. Laver was certainly the greatest of his era. After looking at the championships he won - 11 major titles that included two grand slams - you must also consider those he might have won when he was a professional, between 1963 and 1968. In the first year of open tennis, 1968, Rod lost to Ken Rosewall in the final at Roland Garros but in 1969 he reversed that decision on the way to his second grand slam, seven years after his first, a unique achievement.
But how do you do compare such different eras? You can't with any certainty. All great champions are as good as they have to be in their time. Laver, Borg, Sampras and now Federer have all been great champions, though Sampras and Federer have struggled on clay.
The depth in men's tennis has never been greater, so competition is stiffer now. That is because the game has changed, particularly in terms of racket technology. With wooden rackets skill was at a premium. There was room for a variety of styles. Today's players are more one-dimensional.
Would Laver be a success today, given the same opportunities as the rest? I think he would. He was such a good shot-maker. Personality and character also make a great champion. It has been interesting to watch Federer developing those qualities of self-belief. He used to panic when things were going wrong. Now he doesn't. He is confident that he can change his tactics to suit the occasion.
The rivalry developing between Federer and Rafael Nadal - not just on clay - is a fascinating one. The young Spaniard has the same qualities as a match player and has built a psychological edge - witness Federer's two missed forehands on his two match points in the Rome final. But that loss and the defeat at the French Open will have hurt Federer. He now knows that to conquer Nadal he must be at his very best. He cannot afford lapses of concentration.
That is one of many challenges facing Federer in the years ahead. It will be fascinating to watch his progress.