Photo: Elsa (Getty), Harry How (Getty)

Jason Gay wrote a profile of Roger Federer for WSJ Magazine that covers everything from Federer tearing his meniscus while trying to give his kids a bath (the recuperation preceded two Grand Slam titles last year) to what Anna Wintour thinks of Federer’s potential move into the fashion world after he eventually retires (she’s for it). The best part, though, is when Gay engages Federer in one of tennis fans’ favorite debate: Who is the best player of all time? Like NBA fans arguing about Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, the tennis GOAT discussion is a staple, and it goes pretty much like this:

Nadal will always be remembered as Federer’s top rival, but Federer’s closest contemporary may be a legend on the women’s side, who was born seven weeks after him in 1981. The holder of 23 singles Grand Slams, Williams recently returned to the sport after giving birth to her first child. Federer marvels at Williams: “It’s been fascinating to watch. She had a totally different upbringing—I came up through Switzerland with the federation, she did it with her dad and her sister. It’s an amazing story unto itself—and then she became one of the greatest, if not the greatest tennis player of all time.”

I have to ask: Did Federer, considered by some to be the tennis GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), just suggest Serena was the GOAT? Did he mean GOAT on the women’s side—or overall?

“Overall,” Federer clarifies. He ticks off the staggering stats of players like Williams and Steffi Graf, which eclipse those of anyone in men’s tennis, especially when one factors in all of Serena’s doubles titles.

Of course, the next level of the debate is more complicated, and Gay and Federer cover that, too:

Federer knows that greatest-ever debates in sports are usually a fraught exercise, and in tennis, this is especially so. Changes in equipment, the tournament calendar and travel have made it a markedly different game (if you want to give Laver and Billie Jean King private jets and modern rackets and string, then we can talk). Federer points out that the early generations weren’t chasing records—they were just playing. “It’s not fair to compare, actually,” he says.

“But we know [Serena] is all the way up there. I’m probably up there with somebody, somehow. Maybe there’s a group, a best of five—and if you’re in that group, you should be pleased and happy. Tennis is a funky sport when it comes to that stuff.”

Advertisement

The entire profile is well worth your time.