With his epic victory in the Wimbledon Championships - 16-14 in the 5th set - Roger Federer became the most successful tennis player in Grand Slam history. Objective measures show he is the best player in the world at the moment and many would argue he is the greatest ever.
One of the characteristics of sport that differentiates it from other types of public performance (music, drama, dance and so on) is that fact that all competitive performances can be summarised as a set of numbers. The numbers don’t tell you everything but in the case of Federer they leave little room for doubt about his status. They also provide a sobering reminder of how tough the competition is in elite sport.
Here are a few relevant statistics:
- Score in the final between Federer and Andy Roddick: 5-7 7-6 7-6 3-6 16-14
(the total number of games and the length of the final set were both records)
- Aces served by Roger Federer in the final: 50
- Players in the men’s draw for the first round at Wimbledon: 128
- Players undefeated in the men’s event at the end of the championships: 1 (it’s obvious but worth highlighting)
- Previous Wimbledon titles won by Federer: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 (Pete Sampras holds the record at 7 titles)
- Grand Slam titles: 15 (eclipsing the 14 won by Sampras)
- Consecutive Grand Slam tournaments at which Federer has reached at least the semi-final: 21
- Career earnings so far: $48m US
Roger Federer’s official world ranking at the end of each year since he first played on the professional tour in 1997 at the age of 16:
- Number of players currently below Federer in the ATP world rankings: 1898
The numbers show a) that Andy Roddick suffered a very cruel defeat and b) that Federer is consistently excellent on all surfaces against all players year after year.
Now that the statistics demonstrate Federer to be the best, there only remains the tricky issue of “greatness”. Leading players from the past, quoted by the BBC and ESPN, are divided on whether it is possible to acknowledge him as the greatest tennis player ever; Swiss paper 24 Heures is one of many that poses the question “Roger, the greatest of all time?”
In performance art the most talented people often rise to the top but subjective opinions help determine who is best. In sport it is the results that matter. Although opportunity, quality of coaching, standard of opposition and luck are all factors in deciding who wins, the combination of talent, dedication and performance under pressure is surely most important: you can’t reach number one in the world by luck. This reality gives sport much of its value.
Greatness in sport is difficult to define but, as was once said by an American judge speaking about pornography, I know it when I see it. In the case of Federer, one shot is enough.