Roger Federer Proved Sporting Greatness Is About Extra Than Simply Successful

Roger Federer’s retirement from aggressive tennis means the solar is beginning to set on a golden era of males’s tennis, underpinned by the extraordinary feats of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Information of his retirement has reignited debate about whether or not he isn’t just a fantastic of males’s tennis however the GOAT: the best of all time.

For a lot of, Federer stands alone on the apex of this and each different era. However this view will not be borne out by the numbers. Federer has received fewer grand slams than Nadal and Djokovic, spent fewer weeks at world primary than Djokovic, and received fewer ATP titles than Jimmy Connors.

Nevertheless, uncooked numbers are an insufficient measure of sporting success. For one factor, they obscure the impact of occasions that disrupt equality of alternative throughout the generations. For instance, the numbers don’t replicate the latest COVID interruption (and subsequent exclusion from competitors of the unvaccinated Djokovic), nor do they seize the transitional interval from beginner to skilled tennis.

What number of grand slam titles would Rod Laver have received had he not been banned from grand slam occasions for 5 years (1963-1967) following his departure from the skilled tour? Laver received 11 grand slams throughout his profession, together with a calendar grand slam (successful all 4 slams in the identical yr) each previous to, and following, his ban. The achievement of even one calendar grand slam has eluded Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Even when we had a good and correct means to check sporting success throughout generations, this is able to not settle the query of greatness. For sporting greatness will not be reducible to sporting success. This distinction could also be what Federer followers allude to after they check with him because the GOAT. Reasonably than nostalgia for a time when the numbers stacked up in his favour, they could be pointing to a broader notion of sporting greatness.

What makes sporting greatness?

We should always embrace a extra nuanced understanding of sporting greatness than one restricted to rankings and titles. Victory is one sporting worth amongst many. To function with the restricted view overlooks necessary sporting values that had been the hallmark of Federer’s profession: excellence, aesthetics and integrity.


Federer performed “whole tennis”. He possessed the total repertoire of abilities and capacities – parts of excellence – that the game assessments and makes doable. Throughout his prime, he may serve-and-volley to win factors rapidly or grind out lengthy rallies from behind the baseline.

As he entered his mid-thirties, he reinvented his recreation to play on the baseline and take the ball earlier. Whereas his rivals relied on executing a narrower set of “excellences” supremely nicely, Federer tailored his recreation to regardless of the circumstance demanded by showcasing totally different parts at totally different occasions.


The nice gamers don’t simply good the game as it’s, they alter our understanding of what it may be. Whereas aesthetics is central to a sport equivalent to gymnastics, it’s incidental to tennis. An unsightly level counts for simply as a lot as a elegant level; ungainly strokes might be as efficient as elegant strokes.

Nevertheless, Federer’s model was uniquely pleasing to the attention. He introduced tennis to new aesthetic heights with the grace and fluidity of his strokes and his easy explosive athleticism. He confirmed that effectivity needn’t come at the price of magnificence. His model eradicated the excellence between racket and participant; in his hand, the racket was an extension, not an addition. Federer revealed new aesthetic prospects in tennis whereas by no means compromising on the pursuit of excellence.

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Lastly, Federer’s greatness additionally lies partly in his ethics. His integrity as an athlete was most clearly evident in how he performed himself on the courtroom, how he managed his rivalries, and, maybe most memorably, how he competed towards his best rival.

For one so acquainted with successful, Federer knew learn how to lose nicely. All through his profession of greater than 1,700 matches, he by no means retired from a match, by no means feigned or submitted to damage as a contest started to slide away. He was awarded the ATP sportsmanship award 13 occasions, an accolade voted on by his fellow professionals on the boys’s tour.

At every stage of his profession, he cultivated relations of reciprocal respect and appreciation along with his principal rivals, whether or not it was Andy Roddick in his early interval, Nadal in his center interval, or Djokovic in his late interval. By means of his rivalry with Nadal particularly, we witnessed competitors at its finest – a mutual quest for excellence through which each gamers laid down a problem to one another, and in so doing prolonged one another’s talents and improved each other within the course of.

Federer and Rafael Nadal had been fierce rivals who revered and improved each other. Michael Cullen / Alamy

Whereas their complementary strengths and weaknesses mixed to make for compelling contests, the ethical high quality of the Federer/Nadal rivalry additionally stands out. They confirmed us learn how to compete nicely. They competed as fiercely as two athletes can, for the best stakes of their sport, but neither resorted to the morally doubtful technique of dishonest or gamesmanship.

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Even when chasing historical past, they proved that competitors doesn’t need to be cutthroat. Their instance places the misinform any cynical view of competitors in response to which rivals have to be enemies and each alternative for benefit have to be seized. In doing so, Federer and Nadal have finished a service not simply to tennis however to sport.

Federer has honoured and deepened a convention of tennis that stretches again by his idol, Pete Sampras, and Sampras’s idol, Rod Laver. This custom prizes attacking aptitude, fluid approach and impeccable conduct. The fashionable historical past of males’s tennis arguably begins with Laver, so it’s applicable that the Federer period ends this weekend on the Laver Cup.

Within the last evaluation, the place Federer stands within the pantheon of nice tennis champions is much less necessary than how he broadened our understanding of sporting greatness itself. Success is a part of it, however solely half – excellence, aesthetics, and integrity additionally outline the best of all time.

John William Devine, Lecturer in Sports activities Ethics and Integrity, Swansea College

This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license.