Monday, March 30, 2015

Agassi Declares Rafael Nadal as the Greatest Of All-Time

Andre Agassi has hailed Rafael Nadal as the best player in the history of tennis, ahead of Roger Federer.

The former world No. 1 opted for the Spaniard over Federer, whose wife earlier this week gave birth to a second set of twins, because he has thrived in an ultra-competitive "golden age of tennis".

"I'd put Nadal number one, Federer number two," the eight-time Grand Slam-winner said.

"Federer separated himself from the field for four years. He separated himself from Roddick and Hewitt," Agassi added. "Nadal had to deal with Federer, Djokovic, Murray in the golden age of tennis. He has done what he has done and he's not done yet."

Conventional wisdom ranks Federer ahead of Nadal, as the Swiss holds a record 17 Grand Slam titles against 13 for the current world No. 1. But Nadal has a convincing 23-10 head-to-head record against Federer and is one Australian Open victory away from becoming only the third man to win all four Grand Slam titles twice.

"He has won multiple majors, every single one (more than once) except the Australian Open - and give him another year on that," Agassi said. "It's just remarkable to me what he has done, and he has done it all during Federer's prime."

Agassi added that he did not discount Australia's Rod Laver, two-time winner of the calendar-year Grand Slam, when rating the greatest player of all time.

"I think Federer is a class above, quite frankly," Agassi told HuffPost Live. "You're talking about a guy who dominated pretty much on every surface, minus one guy [Nadal] on clay. He's won everything."

Federer broke the record for Grand Slam titles he shared with Sampras when he won his 15th, at Wimbledon in 2009. The 32-year-old Swiss also surpassed Sampras' record of 286 weeks at No. 1 after reclaiming the top spot following his 17th major title, at Wimbledon in 2012. Federer has 77 career titles and Sampras has 64.

Agassi favors Federer because of his all-court prowess.

"Pete was obviously off the hook on faster courts, but during the clay season players wanted to play against him," Agassi said. "It was an opportunity to get a win over him. You didn't have that luxury with Fed. He was really the world-class, all-around player. Until Nadal, you would say that Fed is probably the best of all time."

Nadal, 27, has 13 major titles and owns a 21-10 record against Federer.

"Nadal has an argument to make for the best of all time," Agassi said. "If Nadal is sitting at a table with Federer and Federer says, 'I'm the best ever,' my first question would be, 'Well, then how come you didn't beat me, because I beat you twice as many times? And, hey, by the way, you know I won everything, including a gold medal [in singles at the Olympics] and Davis Cup [with Spain].'

"But at the same token, Federer has separated himself during a few years like nobody else. And he's done it more consistently. To be able to make the argument for both guys playing in the same generation is pretty remarkable."

Agassi, who won all four Grand Slam tournaments, finished with 60 titles and spent 101 weeks at No. 1, doesn't put himself in the greatest-of-all-time conversation.

"It's not even close," Agassi said. "I'm way down the list from guys like that. I did manage to win all of [the Slams], but that's just the first criterion in my mind. ... For me, those two [Federer and Nadal] and [Rod] Laver are in a whole other tier."

Although Serena Williams, who won her 19th Grand Slam title Saturday with a straight-set win over Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, is arguably the most powerful women’s tennis player of all time, she isn’t the best. That label still has to go to Germany’s Steffi Graf, who dominated the sport from 1987-1999.

Graf won 22 Slams, the most by any female or male in the sport, recording seven championships at Wimbledon, six at the French Open, five at the U.S. Open and four at the Australian. In 56 Grand Slam events, her record was 282–34 (an amazing 89 percent) with the breakdown being 87–10 at the French, 75–8 at Wimbledon, 73–10 at the U.S., and 47–6 at the Australian.

The 89 percent winning percentage held in her overall singles record as she finished 900–115. She was anchored in the top spot in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings for a record 377 weeks, including 186 consecutive from August 1987 to March 1991.

Just over 30 years old, Graf retired in 1999. By contrast, Williams is 33, becoming the oldest woman to win the Australian Open. She broke a tie with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for second in Slams titles but is well behind Navratilova, Evert and Graf for overall singles titles.

Could Williams pass Graf’s 22 Slams mark? It’s certainly in her reach if she can remain healthy for another two years or so. But Graf’s accomplishments, who began her career at just 12, still figure to be more impressive than those of Williams.

After all, she won the unprecedented Golden Slam of all four singles titles and the Olympic crown in 1988.

More information:
» FiveThirtyEight: "The Greatest Rivalry In Men’s Pro Tennis History Is Happening Now"
» The Guardian: "Is Roger Federer the greatest ever or the second best of his generation?"

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