Roger Federer has earned the mantle as the greatest of all-time
Tennis great Roger Federer will play for his eighth Wimbledon title when he faces Marin Cilic in the final of the 2017 edition.
OPINION: It's over. No more debating.
Even if he doesn't win his eighth Wimbledon title on Monday morning (NZ time) against Marin Cilic, Roger Federer can be crowned as the greatest men's tennis player of all-time.
To all those Rafael Nadal fans - don't get your knickers in a twist. Instead, pull the undies out of your crack, bounce your balls 15 times and ponder the proof served up.
Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Dustin Brown and Gilles Muller. Oh, and Gilles Muller.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has lost to all of the above at Wimbledon. His fourth-round defeat to Muller was the second time in his career he'd been bounced out of London SW19 by the Luxembourgian.
Compare that to Federer, whose sole Wimbledon upset over the past 15 years was to Sergiy Stakhovsky in 2013. Alongside his seven Wimbledon titles, the other players the Swiss has lost to in the grass Grand Slam since his first championship win in 2003 have been Nadal, Thomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Novak Djokovic (twice) and Milos Raonic, with the lowest seeding among those foes being 12th.
It's the consistency of Federer at the highest level that seals his spot as the greatest. While in his prime, he set a record streak of reaching 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals and 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. Even when not at his imperious best, Federer was still always too good for all bar the elite.
Of course, the knock on his claim of supremacy is Nadal's head-to-head 'dominance' over the 35-year-old. The leftie has won 23 of their 37 matches, but simply, his only advantage over Federer is on clay, where he has beaten him 13 times in 15 meetings.
That confirms what everyone knows - Nadal is the greatest clay-court player in tennis history. But he's not the best overall - Federer has a 12-10 record over Nadal on other surfaces.
What often goes unconsidered is that Federer may be the second-best clay-court player the men's game has seen. At Roland Garros, he's lost five times to Nadal, four in the final and once in the semi. Other defeats since he became a superstar have come against three-time champ Gustavo Kuerten, Robin Soderling (in 2010 when the Swede was the defending champ), Djokovic, Tsonga, Ernests Gulbis and fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka.
Remove Nadal from the French Open equation and Federer could have six Slams on clay - which would put him high up in the same conversation as Bjorn Bjorg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander as the red-dirt royalty.
Federer's record at the other two Slams - the Australian and US Opens - follows a similar pattern. If you're going to eliminate him, you have to be outstanding, and do it late in the show. In Melbourne from 2004, his conquerors for a decade among four titles were Marat Safin, Djokovic (twice), Nadal (three times) and Andy Murray. In that same period at Flushing Meadow, he won the crown five times while suffering losses to only Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic, Berdych, Tommy Robredo and Marin Cilic.
Federer's resurgence in 2017, as a father of four, has been an unexpected treat. He's taken the smart approach to looking after his body over the past two years and has reaped the benefits, repelling Nadal in five sets in Melbourne at the start of the year, and has now outlasted the rest of the Big Four - the Spaniard, Murray and Djokovic - at Wimbledon.
Do I dislike Nadal and adore Federer? It seems many tennis fans feel you have to pick one side of the net to be on. Not for an instant. The 31-year-old Spaniard has combined lavish talent with a hammering work ethic to become one of the great sporting figures of the 21st century. Fifteen Grand Slam titles - three fewer than Federer - is a wondrous achievement and his matches are eminently watchable for the skill and fight he always displays.
But he's not Federer's equal - or better. Not when two-thirds of those Slams have come on one surface.
Novak Djokovic looked like he was building a serious case to challenge both when he won his 12th Slam with his Roland Garros breakthrough last year. He has one more win than Federer (23-22) in their meetings - but the Swiss is five years older and the Serb has clawed ahead head-to-head in later years.
Djokovic's pursuit of Federer's record haul of slams appeared inexorable, but much like Tiger Woods in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's golfing Majors mark, it's hit some serious hydrants - the latest via injury in London.
Federer's true challenger to the GOAT crown is Rod Laver.
The Rockhampton Rocket was peerless throughout the 1960s and had the set-up for elite tennis been different in that decade, Federer would still be chasing the Aussie leftie's Grand Slam title haul.
What counts against Laver in the debate - before you even factor in the effect on the game of the changes via technology and training - is the depth of competition in the opposing eras.
Laver certainly wasn't beating up on bums - he constantly got the better of all-time greats like Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Lew Hoad and Roy Emerson. But tennis wasn't the worldwide sport in the 1960s that it is now, and the ATP Tour has a vast swag of top-drawer players from around the globe.
When Laver won the 1960 Australian Open, there were 32 players contesting the men's event - 31 from Australia and a lone South African. When he triumphed nine years later, 48 players took part, with 16 receiving first-round byes, and 28 competitors were from the host country.
Federer's consistent supremacy for almost 15 years in a marvellous era leave him alone at the pinnacle of the men's game.