"Roger [Federer] managed to [keep up an extraordinary level of play]...because it was a weak era."
Is this true? As a Roger Federer admirer, I will have to disagree with an emphatic "No!" Remaining as objective as possible, let us analyze this debated topic.
Rankings: Generation Federer vs. Current Generation
As of this week (June 7, 2011), five of the top 10 ranked players (including Federer) are age 26 or older, while the other half are 25 or younger. Turn to the top 30, things change. Eighteen of the top 30 players, or 60 percent, in the world are at least 26 years of age.
This shows that even past their prime, Federer's generation can push the current generation in rankings. It would be logical to assume that in their primes, the 18 players would be able to beat the current generation soundly in rankings and matches.
Winner: Generation Federer in two tight sets
Grand Slams: Generation Federer vs Current Generation
Federer holds the record for most Grand Slam titles, with 16 in all. His rivals during his prime (2004-2007) were Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt and even Andre Agassi. These players have two, one, zero, two, and eight Grand Slams respectively, which adds up to 13 titles.
The current crop consists of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, who have clinched three, 10, and one Grand Slam(s) respectively, for a total of 14.
Winner: Current Generation in two tiebreak sets, after having saved set point in the first
Head-to-Head: Generation Federer vs Current Generation
To determine which generation of tennis players was tougher, we will need to look at the head-to-heads of Federer's past (older) rivals to his relatively newer (younger) rivals.
Nadal Head-to-Head: (Nadal-Player)
-Safin: 2-0; -Nalbandian: 2-2; -Roddick: 6-3; -Davydenko: 4-6
Djokovic Head-to-Head: (Djokovic-Player)
-Safin: 0-2; -Nalbandian: 4-1; -Roddick: 3-5; -Davydenko: 3-2
Andy Murray Head to Head: (Murray-Player)
-Safin: 0-1; -Nalbandian 2-2; -Roddick: 7-3; -Davydenko: 5-4
del Potro Head-to-Head: (del Potro-Player)
-Safin: 1-0; -Nalbandian 1-3; -Roddick: 3-1; -Davydenko: 1-3
Let's add them up. Generation Federer have 38 wins, while the Current Generation has 44 wins. The Current Generation barely wins more than 50 percent of the matches.
Winner: Current Generation in three sets
Tournaments: Generation Federer vs Current Generation
Generation Federer: 119 (77 from Safin, Nalbandian, Roddick, Davydenko, and Federer won 42 from 2004-2007)
Current Generation: 98 (Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, del Potro)
Winner: Generation Federer in two easy sets
Roger Federer definitely had the stronger generation to deal with. It may seem as if there was not any tough player besides him and Nadal from 2004 to 2007, but this is untrue because Federer obliterated opponents on the court, making them seem like sub-par players when they were actually much better than today's tennis field.