Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Gentleman Federer a true five-star champion

Roger Federer's march to greatness is relentless. The statistics say so. With his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, he equalled the feat of the legendary Bjorn Borg.

He captured his 11th Grand Slam, again equalling Borg, and now stands just three away from the all-time record holder Pete Sampras.

He has won 34 consecutive matches on the grass courts of Wimbledon, 54 on grass in all competitions.

But statistics do not tell the whole story. Not when it comes to the grace and elegance and the sheer majesty with which Federer has dominated his sport.

Never has Federer had to resort to the gamesmanship and sheer rudeness of John McEnroe, who garners plaudits as a commentator these days but as a player, was perhaps the worst role model for impressionable youngsters a major sport has ever seen.

Never has he bored in quite the same manner as Pete Sampras, whose legend is assured but whose capacity to bring tedium to SW19 has only been matched by the inclement weather of the past fortnight.

No, Federer is on his way to the place of legends with a game full of panache and variety, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-court game which has taken tennis to a whole new level.

Of course the question will still be asked: Is he really the greatest of all-time?

Borg played with a wooden racket which in technical terms was a bow and arrow compared to the 'AK47' in the hands of Federer in an era of titanium technology.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s the ball moved slower because of the equipment and so did the players.

And yet in Federer, tennis has a man who has done for his sport what Tiger Woods has done for golf.



Twice in the last three years Federer has won three of the sport's four Grand Slams. He has twice won the coveted Laureus Sportsman of the Year award.

And while he may not yet be as rich as Woods, sport's first billionaire, then his chase to eclipse Sampras is as fascinating as Woods' quest to overhaul Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors.

One thing, however, scars the Federer portfolio and that is his failure to win a Grand Slam on clay.

Undoubtedly he would have done so by now but for the emergence of Rafael Nadal, the muscle man from Majorca who has proved unbeatable on the surface for the past three years.

But while Sampras also failed to crack the clay surface, progressing to just one semi-final at Roland Garros, other tennis legends have managed the feat of winning on grass and clay.

Rod Laver and Andre Agassi come to mind. And so does Borg. The true measure of Borg's domination of the sport was that not only did he win Wimbledon five times he also won the French Open six times.

True, Borg struggled with the high bounce of the American hard courts, losing in four US Open finals, but that mastery of grass and clay is what defines his greatness.

Until Federer wins the French, and surely one day he will, then his record inevitably will bear a blemish.