HomeSportsMarina Izidro: Who is the greatest tennis player of all time?

Marina Izidro: Who is the greatest tennis player of all time?


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Roger Federer is retiring. Reading this sentence makes my heart ache, even knowing that the announcement was no surprise. Federer had last played professionally at Wimbledon in 2021, and the 41-year-old has long suffered from knee problems. This week, he explained that the last few years have been difficult, and he realized that he would no longer be able to compete at the level he wants. By saying that he loves tennis and will never leave it, he at least let us know that he will continue to be involved with the sport in some way.

Farewell is full of symbolism. Federer ends his professional career at the Laver Cup, a tournament in honor of his idol Rod Laver. And, as the format is “Team Europe” against “Team World”, he plays on the same team as his great rivals Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

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Even before stepping onto the court, he reignited the debate over who is the “Greatest of All Time” in tennis. Many will say it’s Federer, period. But is there an answer? It seems it depends on the point of view.

For some, being the biggest means winning the most. For others, it’s being more dominant, charismatic, popular. Looking at the numbers alone, Federer has 103 career titles, more than Nadal’s 92 and Djokovic’s 88. But both the Spaniard, with 22 Grand Slam titles, and the Serbian, with 21, surpassed the Swiss’s 20 in singles. If we include both men and women, Margaret Court, 24, and Serena Williams, 23, also earned more.

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As tennis is not just made of data, let’s go to another criterion. Can being the biggest be measured by the size of popularity? Federer has elegance, class and charisma that are hard to beat. It’s practically unanimous among fans and tennis players, respected, a good example on the court (it had a rebellious phase, but it’s been a long time) and outside it, with the important charity work done through its foundation, for example. In this regard, is there anyone dearer than him?

Let’s move on to the question of relevance in sport, and this is difficult because it is subject to interpretation. I only mention Serena, who transformed the way women’s tennis is played and broke down so many barriers. At this point, who would be, in your opinion, winner or winner?

Besides, is it even fair to define who was the greatest, if we compare tennis players from different eras? In the past, it was much more difficult to travel to compete and get sponsorship, the calendar was different, there wasn’t as much technology in sport and investment in nutrition as today. If Maria Esther Bueno, who reigned in the 1950s and 1960s, played today, would she have won more than her 19 Grand Slam titles?

Perhaps the column confused the reader’s mind instead of pointing out solutions, but I confess that I don’t have the answer myself. Sometimes it’s just the athlete we like best, and that’s okay. Or, suddenly, choosing the greatest or greatest comes only from our unconscious need to find answers to everything, create labels, define standards, or believe that whoever played in our time was the best. It is worth remembering, this debate may change radically in the future. After all, Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and co. are coming. For now, I prefer to think about how much fun it is to talk about it with friends. And how lucky for us to be able to watch these geniuses.

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