Roger Federer Surpasses Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras, and Rafael Nadal

Paul F. VillarrealCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2009

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Roger Federer of Switzerland waves to the crowd after victory during the men's singles semi final match against Tommy Haas of Germany on Day Eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 3, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Switzerland's Roger Federer has defeated American Andy Roddick to claim his sixth Wimbledon crown in London, England. The epic contest will go down as one of the greatest matches in men's singles history held on Centre Court.

The final score was 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14. The two men played the longest fifth set, in terms of games—30—in Wimbledon history.

With the victory, Federer leapfrogged a trio of athletic superstars: one legend of his sport, a current tennis standout and the athlete heretofore considered to be the greatest and most dominant active sportsman in the world today, with apologies to 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

Federer's triumph at the All England Club garnered him his 15th major tennis championship, eclipsing the 14 won by seven-time Wimbledon titlist Pete Sampras.

The Swiss had already achieved the career Grand Slam distinction earlier this month by virtue of his claiming the French Open crown. None of Sampras' majors successes ever took place on the clay surface of Roland Garros.

Roger Federer now regains the men's world No. 1 ranking from injured rival Rafael Nadal. The Majorca, Spain native lost in the fourth round of the French Open and was unable to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title due to tendinitis in both knees.

Federer is now the greatest men's tennis player since at least the inception of the Open Era in 1968. Some will argue that Rod Laver, with his two Grand Slams and 11 major championships, was at least as good as Federer.

This is not a widely-held view among the legends of the sport, however. Sampras has already stated he feels the Swiss is the greatest in the history of tennis, and that was before Federer's victory today on Centre Court.

John McEnroe, Swedish icon Bjorn Borg and even Laver himself have all concurred.

Federer is the most prolific major championship winner in the history of his sport. Anything Laver may or may not have done—against inferior athletes from a smaller talent base—is merely hypothetical, and cannot be held against the Swiss.

Federer is the best male player to ever lift a racket, much as Tiger Woods, should he capture five more major titles, will surpass Jack Nicklaus in golf's own pantheon.

Woods, like Sampras and Nadal, is the final casualty of Federer's 2009 Wimbledon success. Tiger, who once made a fantastic commercial lauding good friend Federer's achievements while simultaneously declaring his own, superior horde of major championships, now finds himself on the losing side of not only that ledger, but the aforementioned one as well: Federer has achieved all-time greatest status in his field while Tiger yet remains some distance away from that mark in his own sport.

That is, of course, to be expected. Golfers have far longer careers than do tennis players. It stands to reason that it would take longer for Woods to surpass Nicklaus' 18 majors than it would take Federer to overtake Sampras' 14.

Unfortunately for Woods, however, this is where such pleasant considerations end.

Federer has won 15 major championships in 41 tournaments. Tiger Woods has captured 14 major titles in 54 attempts. That is, Tiger Woods has had over three years more than Federer to accumulate major victories and yet the Swiss still has surpassed the golfing prodigy.

Further, it must be pointed out that Woods is 33 years old and Federer has yet to turn 28. Tiger Woods won his initial major championship in 1997. Roger secured the first of his 15 in 2003.

Since the beginning of 2003, Federer has won 15 major titles. Woods, in the same time period of time, has taken home "just" six.

Roger Federer is the most dominant, accomplished athlete of his era. He is the greatest men's tennis player in the history of the sport.

What of Michael Phelps?

In addition to his 15 major championships, Federer is also the proud owner of his own Olympic gold medal. Federer and Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka won the men's doubles event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Roger Federer 16, Michael Phelps 14.

Of Phelps' 14 Olympic gold medals, it has to be said, five came as part of a group. Only one of Federer's 16 major championships and gold medal came as part of a pairing. There are no medley relays in men's tennis to bolster one's individual accomplishments.

Enjoy and embrace the singular athletic excellence that is Federer. As of today, he stands alone on the pinnacle of world sport. Stands above Woods, Phelps, Kobe Bryant and the rest.

He has achieved the historical apex of men's tennis yet shows no true signs of decline. Federer has, you will recall, won three of the last four tennis majors. How many will he possess when he finally does hang up his racket, 16, 18, 20?

No one can answer that question with any certainty today, not even the Swiss Maestro himself.

Where Federer concludes his career is a topic for another time. For today, it is enough to know that in him we have the privilege of watching not only the best male player who ever participated in his sport but also the greatest and most dominant athlete of his era.

And, for that matter, one of the greatest sports competitors of any era.