Monday, 6 July 2009

The greatest sportsman of our generation?

In the wake of Roger Federer's epic 5-set win over the tremendous Andy Roddick to win his 6th Wimbledon title and his 15th Grand Slam trophy, the BBC have been inviting commentators and tennis greats to comment on two things: whether he is now better than the previous Grand Slam record holder Pete Sampras and whether he is the greatest ever tennis player. Sampras himself thinks Federer has now surpassed him and greats such as Bjorn Borg give him the title of "greatest ever."

I find it difficult to compare over generations on the basis that I never saw anything of Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and McEnroe or that much of Sampras at his best. Equally difficult is to compare across sports - which I guess if I'm trying to work out the greatest sportsman of our generation I would have to do.

I reckon to narrow it down to a shortlist of 5, that list would include (but wouldn't be limited to):

Zinedine Zidane
Three-time FIFA World Player of the Year (1998, 2000, 2003)
European Player of the Year (1998)
World Cup winner (1998)
European Championship winner (2000)
Champions League winner (2002)
3 League Titles (2 in Italy, 1 in Spain)
3 Domestic Cups (2 in Spain, 1 in Italy)

Michael Schumacher
Seven FIA Formula One World Championships
(1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
91 Race wins
1,369 career race points
68 pole positions
76 fastest laps (All F1 records)

Lance Armstrong
Seven Tour de France wins
(1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)

Tiger Woods
14-time major champion:
4 US Masters (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005)
3 US Open (2000, 2002, 2008)
3 Open Championship (2000, 2005, 2006)
4 US PGA Championship (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)
Top 10 at a major - 17 times
68 PGA Tour wins
9 time PGA Tour Player of the Year
(1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007)

Roger Federer
15-time Grand Slam winner:
3 Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007)
1 French Open (2009)
6 Wimbledon Championships (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)
5 US Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)
5-time Grand Slam Runner-up
21 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearance (2004-2009)
World #1 Ranking for 237 consecutive weeks
60 of 82 career win record in finals (73.2%)

Obviously there will be plenty debate - folks missed out, folks included, real achievements etc - but for me, it really comes down to a straight shoot-out between Federer and Woods. I wouldn't include golf or tennis in my top 3 favourite sports, but watching both of these greats of their respective sports has, at times, been nothing short of magic. What they can do when they have an opportunity, when they are under pressure, when they are battling for records or titles, is simply phenomenal. Their records in their respective sports are incomparable with anyone else - Rafael Nadal and Phil Mickleson are worthy number two players, but when compared to Federer and Woods... don't get me wrong, they play their part, win some and lose some. But I really do think Federer and Woods are just a class apart.

As for the greater of the two... I'd go with Federer. His level of consistency is tremendous. He has made every Grand Slam semi-final in the last five years. His ability to deal with Nadal's improvement too - having lost 3 French Open titles and then his Wimbledon crown to Nadal in an epic final 12 months ago, he has come back stronger. Even after losing the Australian Open Final to Nadal in another epic, he has won the French Open and Wimbledon this year... aided - in small part - by injury to Nadal. Andy Roddick ran him close yesterday in Nadal's place, but Federer was able to step it up when required and close out another Grand Slam.

So for me, Federer is the greatest sportsman of our generation. Anyone think differently?


James 6 July 2009 at 17:36  

Zidane please, with Federer second.

Woods effectively competes with himself (golf fails my interactivity test, just like darts) while Formula One is simply not a proper sport.

Incidentally, why are so many Lib Dems obsessed with Formula One? No-one else I know gives a monkey's about it.

Yousuf Hamid 6 July 2009 at 19:13  

I suppose football and formula 1 have the difficulty where it is not just about the individual but the full team but it is pulling a team up which I think shows true greatness.

Seeing Scumacher in 1996 actually outperforming a car and defying basic laws of engineering in going faster than the car could go was incredible as was his commitment and results.

He won championships in a car that was not the best in 94, won comfortbaly with a better car in 95, totally outperformed his car in the next few years and then with a good car absolutely pulverised the opposition.

In case you haven't noticed yet I'm going with Schumacher!

And 350 million people watch each grand prix on average. Not even the Lib Dems would claim in their Focus leaflets that they are all Lib Dems!

Malc 6 July 2009 at 20:50  


My problem with Zidane (and Schumacher, though to a lesser extent) is that for all their individual brilliance, their success (and failure) was not always in their control.

Federer for me is just a magician. Like I say, tennis is not exactly my favourite sport, but the way he does some of the things he does... it is just art.

Stuart Winton 7 July 2009 at 05:14  

James, yes, I would instinctively have thought that the average Lib Dem would be anti-F1.

And presumably from your comments you wouldn't be too impressed if I suggested Phil "The Power" Taylor ;0)

Personally I would go for an athlete (if only because I was less awful at athletics than the other sports Malc covers, although the nearest I got to trying F1 was as a boy racer!) and thus Usain Bolt must be in contention, particularly if he progresses his world records significantly.

Anonymous,  27 July 2009 at 13:16  

Now it really has to be lance armstrong. To win the tour de france 7 times in a row, And not only that but to overcome cancer and come back and do it again. Me personally am a big football fan and zinedine zidane to me is a god but you have to say cycling 100 miles a day for 23 days has to be tougher on you physically and mentally than any of these other sports, can you imagine how hard it must be to be the best in the world at even after coming back from a cancer battle which im sure rquires some doing

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