Jury still out on whether Roger or Rafa is greatest

Last Updated: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 13:13 hrs

The player whom many consider to be the greatest of all time has hailed Roger Federer as the one most deserving of the lofty title. Speaking during the Shanghai Rolex Masters, Rod Laver spoke in glowing terms of the Swiss maestro’s game. "When I look at what Federer has accomplished and against the competition he has achieved it I think Roger is the greatest player. His consistency over a span of six to eight years is amazing."

Laver, now 75, is himself in the forefront of discussions when it comes to a debate on who is the greatest player of them all. The legendary Australian left hander won eleven Grand Slam titles including accomplishing the calendar Grand Slam twice in 1962 and 1969 – an achievement beyond the reach of any other player. 

There are a handful of superstars who have won all four Grand Slam titles – and the list includes Federer and Rafael Nadal – but the American Don Budge is the only other player who has won all the four titles in the same year. He did it once in 1938. Moreover at his peak from 1963 to 1967, Laver could not compete in the Grand Slams as he had turned pro. How many more Grand Slams he might have won is open to speculation.

But Laver graciously acknowledges Federer as the greatest and he certainly is up there with the best of all time on the basis of his record 17 Grand Slams. Before Federer it was Pete Sampras who on the basis of numbers was the subject of intense discussion when it came to debating the best player of all time. The American ended his career with 14 Grand Slam titles which was the record till Federer went past him.

But the man of the moment is clearly Nadal who predictably has taken over as the No 1 from Novak Djokovic. At 27 he already has 13 Grand Slam titles and the manner in which the Spaniard is shaping up, very soon he will be the subject of intense discussion when debating the greatest of all time. Earlier this month he made sure of top spot when he reached the final of the China Open in Beijing. 

It made no difference that he lost to Djokovic in straight sets. He was back to where he belonged for the third time after losing the exalted status in July 2011 after holding the No 1 for 56 weeks. He had become No 1 for the first time in August 2008 when he held top spot for 46 weeks.

This has been a marvelous year for the left handed Nadal who is not only King of Clay but has also displayed his proficiency on other surfaces. He has won ten tournaments including the French Open and the US Open and made 13 finals in 14 tournaments - an incredible achievement. And to think that he was coming back to the tour after seven months following a knee injury!

Indeed Nadal ended 2012 ranked No 4, the first time in eight years that he had not been ranked No 1 or No 2 at the end of the year. And for a short while, he even dropped to No 5 with David Ferrer replacing him in the top four. All this did not stop him from winning the French Open, making him the only male player to win a single Grand Slam tournament eight times and the first to win at least one Grand Slam tournament for nine consecutive years.

Quickly shrugging off his shock first round defeat at Wimbledon, Nadal went from one success to another. The Wimbledon loss marked the first time that Nadal had been beaten in the first round of a Grand Slam but thereafter it has been roses all the way. He has termed 2013 as one of his best years. "It is special to be back at the top position of the rankings after going more than half a year without playing," he said. 

Asked whether he would be celebrating, Nadal came up with a typical answer: "Celebrations are for the end of the season, not before." That succinctly sums up how focused Nadal has been through the year and this is the attitude that has marked him out as the player who can achieve even greater things in 2014.

But whereas Nadal has risen to the top, it has been a steady decline for Federer who finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being in danger of not qualifying for the season finale – the ATP World Tour finals. His ranking has dropped to No 7 and he is fighting for a ticket for the event to be held in London from November 2 while facing competition from countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, France’s Richard Gasquet and Canada’s Raonic. 

Federer has had to endure a wretched season winning just one title from 14 outings with a disappointing win-loss record of 36-13. The 32-year-old says he expected this year to be a bit of a letdown following a triumphant 2012 but even he could not have bargained for such a barren phase. He failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002 and had his least successful year since 2001. 

He has spoken of finishing strongly but his loss in the pre-quarterfinals of the Shanghai Masters to French outsider Gael Monfils did little to boost his confidence levels going into the London event – should he make it. Yes, the rise of Nadal and the decline of Federer has been the main talking point of an eventful season. 

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