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Tennis Greatest ever? Federer fits the bill

sports Updated: Jun 07, 2009 22:00 IST

For many observers that surely is the end of the argument - Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time.

The Swiss star's 6-1, 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 triumph over Sweden's Robin Soderling in Paris on Sunday gave him a first French Open title, after three straight losses in the final, and completed a rare career Grand Slam on all four surfaces.

It also brought him level with Pete Sampras on 14 for the number of Grand Slam titles won and at 27 he likely still has four or five years left at the top to add to that total.

The lack of a win on the clay of Roland Garros and the need to at least match Sampras have been the two reasons most commonly given by those reluctant to accord Federer the supreme accolade of best ever.

But in the space of one chilly and wet Parisian afternoon, the man from Basel has blasted away those reservations.

Level with Sampras, he wins easily on countback having won a French Open title and been in four finals compared to the American's meagre haul of one semi-final appearance in Paris during his career.

Past greats like Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe simply do not have the Grand Slam silverware to compete with the Federer legacy.

Agassi himself left no doubt over his feelings when he and wife Steffi Graf visited Roland Garros ahead of the men's final.

"If he wins he'll know for the rest of his life what an accomplishment he has achieved," said the American who was the only other player in the last 40 years to have won all four Grand Slam titles.

"It ends the dispute of where he fits into the history of the game. It will mean so much to him that the great hole he has created on his mind is finally filled."

"If it wasn't for (Rafael) Nadal he probably would have won a handful of these things so nobody should underestimate where he deserves to fit in this game."

There remains though the enigma of Australian legend Rod Laver, the only man to have pulled off two Grand Slam sweeps in 1962 and 1969.

He won 11 Grand Slam titles in his career and was prevented from playing in them for six years after turning professional in late 1962 at a time when only amateurs could compete.

But the competition at that time was nothing like as fierce as it is nowadays as the sport has gone global with notably players from the former Soviet bloc entering the picture after the fall of communism.

For some, like Australia's former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, the question of who is the best ever is one that should not even be addressed.

"You just can't say for sure that Rod Laver was not better than Federer. There will never be a best player of all time. I find it shows a lack of respect for the past greats, to even pose that question," he said.

For others though, the debate is a valid one and in many ways it is more than just a matter of the number of trophies won.

Federer spent 237 weeks as world No 1 before losing his Wimbledon title to Nadal last year and in Paris he was playing in a record equalling 19th Grand Slam final. He won both Wimbledon and the US Open five-times in a row.

Then there is the matter of his style of play and overall contribution to the game.

For one seasoned tennis observer at Roland Garros who has seen all the great champions play here fromn Laver to Federer, the Swiss star stands out.

"His elegance, sheer talent, demeanour and all round ability is unmatched. He is the finest I have seen," he said.