Jul 012009
 

This is something I have wondered about for a long time. With the ascent of Roger Federer the debate about the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) has been full-blown and passionate. However, why is it that there is no debate talking about women? I am not talking about a unisex comparison, because that is more difficult to do, but in general, why is it such a big deal when a man completes a career Grand Slam, while there are three women who have completed calendar Grand Slams? (To be fair there are two men who have calendar Grand Slams as well)

Take a look at some statistics:

  1. Margaret Court and Steffi Graf each have more than 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Court has 24 and Graf has 22. Other players like Helen Wills has 19, while Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert each have 18. By contrast, among men Federer and Sampras have 14 (Wimbledon 2009 is on as I write this), Roy Emerson has 12 and Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg have 11 each.
  2. If you consider doubles and mixed doubles titles too, the margin becomes a gaping chasm – Court shoots to a humungous 62, Navratilova has an almost as high 59 (and she is still playing!) and Billie Jean King has 39. If you combine the lists across the two genders, the first man would be Roy Emerson at #9, with 28 titles.
  3. Donald Budge was the first man to win all 4 singles titles at the Grand Slams in one year (1938). Rod Laver followed him by repeating the feat twice. Laver first won as an amateur in 1962, then as a professional in 1969 and remains the only male player to win a calendar Grand Slam in the open era. Others like Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer did win all four titles, but not in one year. On the women’s side, however, Maureen Conolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have all completed calendar Grand Slams, in 1953, 1970 and 1988 respectively. In addition several women have career Grand Slams – Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Doris Hart and Shirley Fry.
  4. Statistically speaking Margaret Court was exceptional in her career – she had won a “boxed set” (career Grand Slams in Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles) twice – once before the Open Era and once during. Doris Hart and Martina Navratilova have their own boxed sets, but only once. No male player holds this distinction.
  5. Steffi Graf is the only player to have won singles titles at all four Grand Slams at least four times each. She also spent 377 weeks at #1 – 91 weeks more than Pete Sampras.
  6. Althea Gibson was the first African-American, male or female, to win a Grand Slam (French 1956, Wimbledon 1957 & 1958, US 1957 & 1958). Yet the stadium got named after Arthur Ashe. This isn’t to demean Ashe – he was a great player in his own right with three Grand Slams and a pioneer with his social efforts.

I agree that people like Federer and Laver represent a perfectly orchestrated symphony, that the men’s game of 5 sets is more physically taxing,  that most top men would whip the top women players of their time (I don’t say “all” because of Billie Jean King’s famous whipping of Bobby Riggs) and that Roger Federer is one of the most statistically impressive players ever. But somehow I feel that women have been shortchanged in GOAT discussions. Maybe we should start calling it GMOAT, just to be specific. Maybe we should start giving Wonderwoman too some credit, just like Superman.

Update on 5th July 2009: Roger Federer has now added Wimbledon 2009 to his collection, raising the total Grand Slams to 15 – the highest among men.

Feb 042009
 
 February 4, 2009  Posted by at 5:09 pm Sports, Take a Bow Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »

Last Saturday night, or actually the early hours of Sunday, 1st February, I was up watching the Men’s final of the Australian Open – a match-up between the two best tennis players in the world: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The world rankings say that Nadal is #1 and Federer is #2, and if the current form is any indication, Nadal is bound to catch up and overhaul the career Grand Slam mark that Federer sets.

But for as long as Federer is an active player, he will remain my favourite. Being a right-handed player with a single-fisted game myself, albeit of phenomenally less talent, I love watching the beauty of his play – so effortless, so graceful, yet so fascinatingly dominating. He is the reason that I resumed playing tennis after a 15-year hiatus.

Which is why I was really sad on Sunday morning. These two opponents have provided 3 thrilling encounters, all in the finals of grand slams – 2007 Wimbledon, 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open. All were 5-setters, and the first one resulted in a victory for Federer, while the other two had Nadal triumphing. The two defeats, though worthy of the finals of Grand Slams, left me feeling very sorry for Federer. Here was a person on the cusp of history on both occasions – about to set an open-era record by winning his 6th successive Wimbledon in 2008 and his record equalling 14th Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2009. Both the times Nadal halted his quest.

When asked to speak at the award ceremony of the Australian Open, he broke down and I guess most people could feel his pain. Sheesh – someone who has reached at least the semi-finals of every grand slam since 2004 and the finals of all but two of them, who has missed winning a calendar grand slam on two occasions, being thwarted by another genius surely must hurt. Particularly since Federer’s problems against Nadal are more in the mind rather than the ability. Throughout the Australian Open Federer had a first serve percentage of around 70%, but in the final it dropped to 51%. It is as though his form deserts him while playing Nadal. It was quite different in Wimbledon 2007, when the match kept see-sawing till Federer hit his groove in the fifth set. Nadal’s level of play remained the same, but Federer was sensationally sublime, as he is with every opponent other than Nadal. The result was that Federer convincingly won the last set. If only Federer can do that more often against Nadal! Till then I feel it is difficult for Federer to cross the number 14.

At the end of the day the greatest gesture of the Australian Open came from Nadal, when he put his arm around a distraught Federer to console him. The best moments in sport are highlighted by the victor commiserating with the vanquished, when the vanquished could well have won an engaging battle. Take a bow, Federer & Nadal at AO 2009, you join Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at Edgbaston in 2005 and Brett Lee applauding Sachin Tendulkar at Adelaide in January 2008 as my favourite sporting moments!