- ATP Tour
Becker questions whether Federer is greatest ever
Boris Becker has cast doubt over Roger Federer's claims to being the best tennis player of all-time, as the Swiss maestro prepares to defend his ATP World Tour Finals title at the O2 Arena in London.
Even though Federer leads the statistical analysis on virtually every level, all-time great Becker has claimed the 17-time grand slam champion may not be greatest player of them all, in comments that are bound to stir up plenty of debate.
Becker will be watching Federer in action over the next week in his role as a Sky Sports commentator for every day of this year's World Tour Finals and has suggested that the Swiss maestro has benefited from playing in an era where the racket technology has helped him to shine. Becker questions whether Federer would have had the skills to get the better of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe on a consistent basis in previous generations.
"Is Federer the best ever? I don't know," pondered Becker in an exclusive ESPN interview. "You have to say he is the most successful player we have seen, but how can you decide for sure that he is the best ever? Comparing generations is tough, especially in tennis, even though Roger ticks many boxes as the greatest ever.
"Federer has 17 grand slams, the most ever. He has the most weeks at world No.1, which is an impressive record and clearly he has been an incredible player for many, many years. His level of consistency is maybe his most impressive quality.
"However, would he have beaten McEnroe when he was at his very best in the 1984 Wimbledon final using a very different type of racket to the one he has now? I doubt it. Would he have beaten Bjorn Borg at his very best when he was dominating at the French Open or Wimbledon? Again, I doubt it, but that is not to belittle Federer's achievements for one moment.
"The big difference is the racket technology these days. I started with a wooden racket and you simply could not do some of the things guys like Federer and Nadal have done in recent years using that type of equipment. It would not have been possible. So they would have had to adapt their styles.
"I would love to see Federer and Nadal play a match with a wooden racket and see how they get on. It was a very different sport when McEnroe and Borg did their thing, but clearly the guys winning the big tournaments now deserve to be respected.
"Roger is still very much here and I still believe he will stay around for some time. He has set the bar so very high in his career and everyone looks for the minor crack in his make-up. I'm amazed by his commitment to the game considering he has two kids, as that was one of the reasons I decided to quit my career."
Becker admitted he would have relished the chance to mix it with the icons playing the game in this epic era of the sport, though he insists he is content with a career that saw him claim six grand slam titles and three World Tour Finals.
"I would love to have played in this era, of course," Becker said. "To play Nadal, to play Federer would have been great. Every top sportsman wants to test himself against the best in whatever he does and clearly, we have some of the greatest players ever to play tennis in the sport right now.
"You want to test your own boundaries, see how good you are, but I am not unhappy with the era I found myself in. I had some great rivalries in my day. Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe were not too bad at the game and the same goes for Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. My great rival at Wimbledon was always Stefan Edberg and I'm happy with the career I had."
Becker's admiration for 11-time grand slam champion Nadal shines through, yet he fears the Spanish great may struggle to reclaim his place among the game's greats after missing the last six months of this season with his knee injury.
"There has to be serious questions raised over whether Nadal can get back to the level he has been at for so long," added Becker. "I certainly hope he can do that because he has been an incredible ambassador for tennis.
"One of the reasons why we have so many people all over the world loving tennis like never before is Nadal and that is why we all have to hope he can come back strong. His style and personality is truly missed. Not to mention the fact that he is a mighty fine player and we have all been denied some great matches featuring Nadal this season due to his injury.
"The trouble for him is that so much of the way he plays is based around his physicality. If we can get him back to some level on the tour next year, even if it is just for the time when he is at his best during the clay court season, every tennis lover will be happy. However, until we see him again, everyone will have doubts."