Roger Federer and the 15 Biggest Egos in Tennis History
Ego is not always a bad thing. It is a big part of being a successful champion.
Now, it doesn't exactly boil down to the entitlement attitude of "I'm owed...", "I deserve to be in the final..." or "he/she was lucky to win..."—although it's not too far off.
Ego affects even the most unpretentious of us. It's not a character deficiency per se—in fact, it could actually be a thing that completes a person.
It can be seen in the player who feels he's been at the receiving end of unwarranted write-offs for too long and upon winning an elusive title, seemingly becoming haughty. Similarly, It can also be seen in a player who is used to winning but cannot accept losses.
When a player gets a sniff of the winning habit, ego is born. Ego is not really a "thing" that occurs—it's a consequence of what has occurred.
Here's a shout out to the 15 biggest egos in Tennis history.
15. Bjorn Borg
In 1981, the International Tennis Federation ruled that a player had to participate in at least 10 sanctioned tournaments per year in order to avoid having to play in the qualifying rounds at the Grand Slams from 1982 onwards.
Bjorn Borg, the four-time defending French Open champion who won a record six French Opens overall and also won a record five straight Wimbledon titles, understandably did not feel like he should have to play in qualifiers under any circumstances.
And so what did Borg do after the US Open 1981? He simply decided to stop playing. Plain and simple.
Brings a smile to my face, that, in 1982, Bjorn played just the one tournament (Monte Carlo) in April. In January 1983 he announced his retirement at the age of 26 having won 11 Grand Slam titles.
14. Boris Becker
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Boris Becker displayed a sense of entitlement to the Wimbledon title that was evidently fueling a lot of his successes there.
He made the famous quote: "I didn’t start a war. Nobody died. I only lost a tennis match, nothing more"—but really that was just a deflection from showing he was very hurt by his defeat to journeyman player at the time, Peter Doohan.
Becker was a two-time defending Wimbledon champion at the time and was widely expected to win the title again. That loss certainly didn't go down well.
Kudos to Becker though, he did well to keep it to himself.
13. Ioan Tiriac
Seemingly discontent with not being the best tennis player of his generation, Ioan Tiriac felt he had to shake the stautus quo a bit.
Being the billionaire in his native country of Romania, the tennis promoter owns the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open (or Madrid Masters). One of the weirdest stunts he tried to pull off was when he suggested that the tournament be played on blue clay.
Blue clay?? My thoughts exactly. Not only did he want to destroy the very essence of clay court tennis—he wanted to do it because blue was the main sponsor's color.
To add to that, he wanted the Madrid tournament to become the fifth Grand Slam.
12. Andy Murray
Beyonce: you got a big ego...such a big ego...
'Nuff said, don't you think?
Look at the poor ball boy's face.
11. Marcelo Rios
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Marcelo Rios was a very strange character. He reached the No. 1 ranking and stayed there for a few weeks, but he had a reputation for being a very disagreeable person.
In fact, he won the Prix Citron award for many years (sometimes in a row) for being the most disagreeable player on tour.
You know you have a big ego when you tell Monica Seles "Move your fat butt!" at a lunch queue in Wimbledon. In fact, Sports Illustrated described Rios as the "Most Hated Man in Tennis" because of his on-court tantrums and his lack of respect for past greats.
After achieving the No. 1 in singles, an Argentine reporter asked Rios what it felt like to be at the same status as Guillermo Vilas, Rios answered "Vilas was No. 2 and I'm No. 1".
In another incident, Rios was disqualified from the 2000 Mercedes-Benz Cup tennis tournament in Los Angeles, California during a first-round match with Gouichi Motomura of Japan and fined US$5,000 for saying "f*ck you" to the chair umpire.
Ilie Nastase described Marcelo Rios this way:
"He's the worst ***** I ever met. The players of today probably have the same opinion of him. Ask all the players what they think of him, you'll get the same thing. When somebody doesn't sign autographs for the kids, that is a ***** for me. (What about his game?) I don't give a ****. I don't look at him. For me, he's an idiot. I don't know what else to tell about him. And that's the first time I say something about somebody like that. I think he was the worst thing for tennis. He did not deserve to be No. 1—one or two days. To live with the other players like he did—terrible. He really was the worst. I never say anything about anybody else like this but about him I have to say this. Sorry."
10. Andy Roddick
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I haven't one iota of doubt that the sum total of all of Andy Roddick's losses to Federer left a chip on the American's shoulder and to have won just the one slam after all the hype (over-hype really) that surrounded the American would not have eased it one bit.
Watching him hassle the line judge at the US Open in 2010 for [correctly] calling a foot fault and then make a joke to the referee about dialing "1800 rent-a-ref" was no doubt as clear-cut a representation of the feelings of inadequacy that fuels Roddick's ego.
Ever wondered about Roddick's prickly persona during interviews after losses?
Q. You were very upset with the foot fault call.
ANDY RODDICK: Let's be fair. I wasn't upset with the call. I got called for two others which I wasn't that upset about. I just expect my umpires to know the left foot from the right foot. If I ask, you know, what I'm doing, and she says, Right foot, and I point to my right foot and she says, Yes, that one. So then I let it marinate and say you had time that's impossible. So if I'm questioning it and then you're telling me this and you're pretty adamant about it, that's impossible. I've never once find me any tape where my right foot has ever landed in front of my left foot on the serve. And just the stubbornness of I let mine get in the way of them not being able to say, Okay, just change your mind. You know what, it was your it never would have stopped. I got called for two others after that, and I had was no issue with it. You know, in the moment, I was just stupefied.
9. Michael Stich
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When Michael Stich lost to fellow compatriot Boris Becker in 1993, it was probably the German's best match on the surface, and to have lost didn't go down well with him at all.
When asked whom he wanted to win in the subsequent match between Sampras and Becker, Stich replied "It doesn't matter to me." But what about a fellow German? He was asked. "Nothing against Becker." Stich answered.
More than a decade later, Stich's ego reared its head again. In 2007, Michael Stich claimed that Serena Williams was faking an injury during one of Serena's matches at Wimbledon against Hantuchova to get some respite from the pressure she was under from her opponent. Serena eventually won the match.
Not backing down from this, in Serena's very next match against Justine Henin, he felt that Serena choosing to play was a sure sign that she wasn't injured after all. Serena lost the match and pulled out of her doubles match with her sister.
The ego-tripping didn't stop there though. In 2009, he claimed that female players at Wimbledon were "just there to sell sex."
8. Guillermo Vilas
When Rafael Nadal equaled and surpassed Argentina's Guillermo Vilas' record of consecutive clay court match wins in 2006, the Argentine claimed that Nadal's feat wasn't quite as good as his, and his record was better than Nadal's.
At the time, Vilas' record—going 53 matches unbeaten on clay in a season—had stood unchallenged for almost 30 years. He said:
"First of all, Nadal's performance is spanning over two years, which is not the same. Then, I have the feeling he added easy tournaments on his schedule just for that purpose."
Vilas later backed down from the comments, saying:
"He's a great player—he's very good for tennis. He will inspire a new generation of players. Borg and myself, we made the other players train harder. We changed the game in that way."
7. Serena Williams
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I wouldn't necessarily have figured Serena Williams as an egotist till I witnessed line-judge-harassment-gate at the US Open in 2010.
Far from being just angry, Serena displayed all of the classic symptoms of egotism. It stood to figure then that she couldn't have foot faulted, she couldn't have been wrong and the line judge was way beyond her depth—but, she was wrong and she did foot-fault and she shouldn't have laid into the line judge like she did.
In another instance, when Serena was accused of faking an injury by Michael Stich in her Wimbledon match vs. Hantuchova in 2007, she responded by making sure Stich knew his place. She stated that she was the better player of the two and had won more Grand Slam titles than he had (it was the truth though, to be honest).
"My career is actually more stellar than Stich's, so he can say whatever he pleases. I've never been overdramatic in my whole career."
On another note, although the Williams' domination of Wimbledon is well known, their sense of entitleship to the title is usually only implied in a hush-hush way. When Sharapova came onto the scene and defeated one sister, why did we all get the feeling that it had become the job of the other sister to defeat Sharapova at all costs?
6. Pete Sampras
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I'm a big fan of Pete Sampras and remain astounded by how much he was able to achieve in the game. Results wise, he's certainly the best player on grass and 14 Grand Slam titles in total doesn't hurt either.
That aside, I've never really understood his decision to abstain from coming to Wimbledon. For the great player that he is, it's quite a decision to make. After all, we see Borg, McEnoroe, Becker etc almost every year—is it really that big a deal?
Perhaps, he's just a quiet person—but it's the quiet ones that give the greatest cause for concern, no? Perhaps, we are not worthy of his company. Perhaps so.
In the best example of Sampras' ego, unable to take a joke made by Agassi in a charity tournament in 2010 after Sampras had himself jokingly imitated Agassi, Sampras smacked a serve to hit Agassi. Agassi barely dodged it.
5. Marat Safin
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When a player achieves success, there is a possibility of ego showing up. And simply add adulation, recognition, money and success to the equation, and the thirst to achieve is usually drowned out.
One of the usual symptoms of an overbearing ego is being too lazy to continue to put in the work that got you to the top of the game in the first place—and it was a symptom that Marat Safin exhibited all too often.
Add to this, the exaggerations of his numerous racquet smashing and emotional outbursts, and we see this ego in full view.
The talent and ability that Safin had at his disposal may rarely be matched again, and to say that ego robbed him of his full potential is probably not that much of an overstatement.
4. Novak Djokovic
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The man who would be king of ego.
Due to being in the background for such a long time and playing second fiddle to Federer and Nadal, Novak Djokovic was simply an incident waiting to happen.
So many of his desires (including being No. 1 and winning major titles) had to be subdued and put on hold because Federer and Nadal were in town, and it was no surprise that when he won the Australian Open for the first time in 2008, some regrettable things were said.
Djokovic was labelled by his family as the "king," and according to them, the old king [Federer] was dead.
Ego not being known to die down arose again, he criticized Andy Roddick for joking that he had "16 injuries" (bird flu, SARS and anthrax, to name but a few).
Roddick's reply was to simply say: "I figure if you’re going to joke and imitate other people and do the whole deal, then you should take it. Especially in Novak’s case. If you’re going to dish out all the stuff, then be able to take it with a smile.
3. Roger Federer
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1. Cream suit at Wimbledon? Self-love much? Not okay.
2. Crying during Nadal's airtime after Australian Open loss? Classic entitlement attitude. Not okay either.
3. Disappointed more because he lost in front of the "legends" as opposed to because he lost to Nadal in that final? Ego much?
5. Famously claimed after Nadal had dominated the clay court Masters series events in 2010 that Nadal's wins weren't important. Not cool Roger—not cool at all!
"Rafa's and my clay court seasons are decided at the French Open, and not before. It's unfortunately—or fortunately—like that. If we win all the tournaments like Rafa now and then go out in the first round of the French, everything will be questioned. It's just how it is, so we'll see what happens in three weeks."
2. Andre Agassi
Okay, Agassi was a very talented player and achieved a lot in the sport—but for me, that's where it ends.
I can't and still don't understand why he felt selling a few more copies of his autobiography was worthy of bringing the game to near disrepute with his doping revelations.
It stunk of selfishness and a big ego that needed stroking—it wasn't okay in the least.
And enough with the pretentious earrings and jeans as well. At the time, they may have seemed "cool" and "hip," but they were the very antithesis of that.
When did being overly interested and engaged (vainglorious being the exact word) in oneself ever qualify as "individualism," "cool" or "hip".
1. John McEnroe
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The King of Ego.
John McEnroe hated losing (nothing abnormal about that)—what was abnormal though was how much he hated it. It was either McEnroe's way or no way. The spirit of a champion or the whining of an egotist—the latter I think.
McEnroe was petulant, acid-tongued and exhibited the entitlement attitude in more ways than had ever been seen in tennis.
The best example of this ego was showcased in the most unlikely of situations. McEnroe, in an interview, advised or perhaps wanted Nadal to show more ego. McEnroe claimed that he was "getting a little bit tired of [Nadal] continuing to downplay his chances." McEnroe also added:
"There is definitely an argument for him [Nadal] not only being the best player at the moment, but the greatest of all time. Rafa has won things like the Davis Cup and an Olympic gold medal [in singles] that Roger Federer hasn't, and he is right on his tail in terms of Grand Slam titles, too, so why can't he just say, 'Look, I'm the best?"
Johnny Mac has mellowed now, but during his pomp, there was so much ego floating around that you had to simply say "John, you cannot be serious!"