What exactly characterizes dominance? The dictionary defines it as “ruling or controlling with authority or influence”. When surveying the field of sports with this in thought, two great athletes come to mind—Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.
These two men have been able to be at the top of their fields for over four years now, in non team sports. In solo sports, it can be easier to shine as all the focus is upon the athlete; however, the level that these two men have performed at has put them in a league of their own. In every tournament they enter, they are the favorites to win against the rest of the field not to mention the fact that if Woods shoots over par or if Federer loses a set it comes as a shocker.
That itself shows how magnificent their play has been and how talented they are as well. Yet so much of golf and tennis is mental, the ability to focus on every shot and forget the mistakes on prior plays. In team sports, it is easy for a player to error and have his teammates “pick him up” but in the aforementioned sports, it is so vital to have mental fortitude.
What separates the two is small, but it is what makes one greater than the other. (And I’m not talking about who is the better actor in those Gillette commercials.) Woods has the aid of his caddy, to support him and give him advice on what club to hit. The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tour does not allow for coaching during matches.
In fact, for the past ten months, Federer has been traveling without a coach anyways, and has still managed to pick up two Grand Slams. Moreover, Woods is not playing against his opponents; he is playing against the golf course, meaning no one can beat him but himself. Federer must face his opponents head on, stare them down across the net and defeat them one by one to capture his precious Grand Slams.
While Woods is a tremendous athlete, and quite possibly the best to ever play golf, Federer is the best and most dominant athlete in the world today, and he is on a quest to cement himself as the greatest tennis player of all time, even though, to some, he already is.
Federer, not so long ago, was merely known as a talented youth with a poor attitude and who was unable to perform at the level that he was capable of. Federer turned pro in 1998 at the age of 17, still a baby on the tour level. In his first five years on tour, Federer compiled a record of 158-93, a meager 63% winning percentage.
However, it was his win at Wimbledon in 2001 over his idol, Pete Sampras, that he says changed his perspective on the game. He had the epiphany that he could be the best since he had just beaten the best, in Sampras, on Sampras’ best surface. After a full year of playing and training after that monumental victory, Federer entered the 2003 season with two goals in mind: to win his first Grand Slam and to end the year at No. 1.
Unfortunately for him, he was only able to achieve one of those objectives, winning the Wimbledon Title in London, where he has not lost a match at since. Federer ended the year at No. 2, behind Andy Roddick, but that only fueled Federer to practice harder to claim the throne atop the tennis world.
In the 2004 season, Federer went on to grab three Grand Slams and the No. 1 ranking as well. In 2003 and 2004, Federer amassed a 152-23 record, a monumental jump signifying not only his rise to greatness but his growth in mental maturity as well.
When many sports fans watch Federer, it is easy to think that he is not playing at full effort but that is only because the game that he plays comes with such ease. Federer is a maestro on the court, able to come up with winners from any conceivable area. But without his genius ability to orchestrate the points, his talent would be wasted. He has given many of the tennis world the reason to believe that he is the best to ever hit a tennis ball, not just through his grace on the court but also through his sheer domination of the competitors he has faced ever since he first achieved his status as No. 1.
Since 2004, Federer has won 87% of his matches, has claimed 11 of the last 17 Grand Slams, only failing to reach at least the semi-finals just once. Until his recent loss to the up and coming Serbian Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the 2008 Australian Open, Federer had reached 10 straight Grand Slam finals, winning 8 of them and losing twice at the French Open to Rafael Nadal. Those numbers are unfathomable, especially in a sport that is constantly testing the physical and mental stamina of its athletes.
But it is more than just numbers that defines “Roggg” as it his intrinsic ability to shred his opponents on the court in a routine fashion, time after time. When Federer trails in a set, the tennis world turns upside down as intense fans of the game closely watch the match in anticipation of an extraordinary upset. Has there even been a player in any sport with so much pressure to win so dominantly in every single event? Probably not. But Federer does this, week after week, quietly going about his business, as he trains to set the new standard in professional sports, something the New England Patriots, as a team, could not claim, which is, perfection.
Statistically, Federer is on pace to set many records, the most important being the all time Grand Slam victories held by Sampras, 14, whom many also argue is the best ever. It is interesting to compare the careers of these great athletes, as many of those who argue that Federer is not the best, question the competition he is playing against. In Sampras’ day, he had to face legends like Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. While it is true that all of them are great players and had fantastic careers with multiple Grand Slams each, it is fair to contend that Federer would be able to dominate those players as well as the ones he does now.
Federer holds the ability to win on all surfaces, and that itself gives him an edge against his current competitors as well as the champions before him, who he is chasing down to claim the title as the paramount in the history of tennis. Also, few realize the excellence of Nadal, arguably the best clay court player ever, who holds a perfect 21-0 record on the red clay of Roland Garros, and who has been the only type of Kryptonite for the Fed Express, holding the two titles that would have given Federer an absurd 10 straight Grand Slam titles.
However, the critics still want to see more from Roger before anointing him the King, and now he has his chance to prove his prominence as he finally has “worthy” competitors in Nadal and Djokovic, to challenge him at the Grand Slams. Federer now has his opportunity to silence his critics, by continuing his dominance and displaying his utter greatness by capturing more Grand Slams, and leaving all historians and casual fans of the game with no doubt that he is the best ever.
For now, Federer can only continue to go about his business quietly, as he amasses even more incredible feats and statistics. Perhaps one day, he will be appreciated by all fans, but until then, he can only keep the train of supremacy on the tracks until the wheels can turn no more and he reaches the last stop: Station GOAT. Roger Federer, the Greatest tennis player Of All Time and the most dominant athlete of this generation.