Obtaining legendary status, be it in any field, is not an easy task. Those who have gone on to become legends must have toiled endlessly to become one. Particularly in the field of sports, we embellish and eulogise such stalwarts. We often get enticed into comparing one legend with the other, just to find out who truly stands out from the crowd. In India, where no game other than cricket is watched with extreme passion, it has not been a surprise for us to see batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar, figuring in all prominent ‘greatest-ever’ discussions.
The debate on finding out who the best batsman in the world is seems never-ending, but considering the longevity that Sachin has managed in comparison to the rest, accompanied by his mammoth batting records, we would rather give the benefit of doubt in the Indian batsman’s favour. Now, having done that, it is time for us to move on and find out how he fares as a sportsman, forget about being a cricketer, when he is pitted against another great from another sport.
There are many legends in other sports with whom the Indian great can be equated but considering the way he has played the game with utmost dedication and love, none comes closer to him in this aspect other than arguably the most respected athlete in the entire world, Roger Federer. Now looking beyond patriotism and my personal affinity towards either of the two, I have tried my best in finding out who prevails over the other as the best sportsman. However, I leave it to the readers to make their own decision.
Uniquely, on a lighter sense, keeping their games aside, there is one striking commonality which binds both the Indian and the Swiss. Both are well younger than their respective spouses. While Sachin is 6 years younger than his wife, Anjali, Roger is 3 years junior than his better half, Mirka. Not making any more inroads into their personal lives, we will now try to explore their professional side which might give us a lucid view of who really is the best sportsman.
Unbecoming of a player:
The job of picking one as better than the other becomes very tedious if it comes to deciding the same purely on the basis of their behaviour. Since the way a player behaves is one of the important aspects of sportsmanship, I chose to bring it first as one of the tools for effecting the comparison.
Sachin Tendulkar has been playing international cricket since the last 23 years and I am unable to recall any incident reported anywhere where the Indian maestro has behaved in a way which can be referred to as “unbecoming of a player”. The same can be said about Roger Federer too, who has been a thorough professional whenever he takes the court, unlike what you have seen in the case of players like McEnroe or Connors.
However, in Miami 2009, playing against Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer did something which we had never seen him doing before. Neither was he able to control his errors nor was he able to control himself. In a burst of anger, he dashed his racquet three to four times, enough to break its strings and the playable part of it. Sachin has never done such a thing to display his frustration to the outside world blatantly. So I feel Indian batsman scores over the Swiss star as far as behavior on the field is concerned.
Love for the game:
The reason for someone excelling in the game is because of the love he has for it. Neither Federer nor Tendulkar can be said to have loved their game anything lesser than the other. But we need to choose a winner here.
In the 2009 Australian Open final, when Federer suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Nadal in five sets, the Swiss Maestro shocked the entire world. He was supposed to be one of the greatest players ever to have played the game. Following his third successive defeat to Nadal in a Grand Slam final, though, he eventually broke down in front of thousands of spectators during the presentation ceremony in Rod Laver Arena.
There were people who criticized this act of Federer as childlike. But they failed to realize that his love for the game made him cry. Chasing Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles, he failed to achieve it for the third time in a row. He wanted the match badly but it eluded him even after he gave a valiant fight for more than five hours. So, unable to control his emotions, he wept in public despite knowing full well that he was a professional. This showed how attached he was with the game; just like an ordinary person cries if he misses someone who is near and dear to him, Federer’s eyes shed tears in distress.
In case of the Indian batting legend, never at any point of time has he let his emotions dominate him. There were many times he fought hard, scoring runs for his team, only to see his other team-mates crumble disastrously. The 1996 semi-finals against Sri Lanka in the World Cup, played in Kolkata, was one such example where Sachin did the bulk of the scoring and once he departed, the wickets fell like nine pins. We have seen so many instances like that where Sachin was left to fight alone. But never have we seen him weeping in public like that.
So, as far as the love of the game goes, Federer scores just slightly over Sachin.
In spite of being top players in their respective sports, we have always seen them being humble to the maximum extent possible. We hardly ever find them behaving arrogantly. In a recently held press conference, Sachin Tendulkar, when he was continuously asked about his ideas of retirement, citing the quotes of a few former players, said something which was construed as arrogant by a few media people. Sachin said that nobody should advise him when he should retire. He came all by himself to cricket and so it was he who would decide on his exit.
Now, if that was something which should be called as an act of arrogance, then we need to look at what Roger Federer did in the US open final against Juan Martin Del Potro. Unhappy with one of the decisions of the chair umpire, he chose to give the latter a mouthful. The chair umpire asked him to remain calm to which Federer replied angrily, “I know when to talk. I will talk when I want to talk.” This was probably the only time I saw Federer in a very bad mood all through his career.
Now, it is time to decide, among these two, who is more arrogant. Tendulkar spoke in such a manner not in front of the public on the field but he did it in a press conference, attended only by a few. He did it because there were so many people who had started advising him on his retirement which was uncalled for. Since it was something which should be his personal decision, he did not want people to meddle in his affairs. So, he was fully justified doing it. Whereas in Federer’s case, it would have been better if he had left alone a decision which had gone against him. Those things do happen and as a professional he should have instead concentrated on the remaining part of the game. But he threw tantrums in front of the referee and eventually lost the match, which was under his grasp in the fourth set.
So we can say that shades of arrogance have been seen in Federer which are much more than what we have seen from Sachin, thus far. Sachin wins the battle here against Fedex.
Inventions in the game:
As a player who has been in the game for a very long time, people expect you to bring something new to the game, which can be branded as your own exclusivity. Sachin has been a pure player, immaculate in his approach, possessing very traditional types of drives and cuts. More importantly, he plays all those textbook shots more precisely and perfectly than most of the others. Of late, he has included some cheeky shots like the upper cut, scoops over third man and so on in his repertoire. But these were not necessarily his inventions; they were brought in by certain other unconventional players to cricket.
In Federer’s case, improvisation has been the order of the day. Not only does he know every shot in the book, but has also introduced certain novel shots, never known to have tried before by anyone. The forehand drop shots from the baseline, the backhand flicks (even Sampras admitted he had never seen anyone playing that) and a sort of a forehand slice from the baseline while retrieving the ball – they have all been his own inventions. And who can forget those tweeners (between the leg shots), which he plays with 100 % precision when needed ?
Can we think of anyone else other than Roger here as a winner when it comes to inventing something, which can be branded as his own? So Federer outplays Sachin in this aspect.
At the end of the day, whoever is the best sportsman should be determined by the records he or she created. Sachin’s record of tons of tons is seriously something which should prove a Herculean task for anyone to surpass. Tendulkar has scored the most number of runs in a World Cup. He has played more Test matches and ODIs than anyone else and has scored the most runs in both these versions of the game. All in all, his records revolve around the number of tons and runs. Considering that he has played for more than 23 years, this is what we can expect from any great batsman.
In Federer’s case, it is just 14 years since he turned professional. His first Grand Slam title came in 2003, when he was just 21 years old. He has weaved magic since then. In just another six years, he overhauled Sampras’ records of 14 Majors quite easily, and now has 17 titles to his credit. He has won 75 titles in all, with a record 6 ATP World Tour Finals victories. He has the most number of hard court titles in history.
Federer is also the first player in the Open era to have won Wimbledon and US open titles back to back four times in a row. He has a career Grand Slam and an Olympics gold medal in doubles, and recently added a silver medal from the men’s singles event at the London Olympics. He was in a position to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time thrice in his career, only to be denied by Nadal each time. There are several stand-alone records which he holds as a tennis player. However, in terms of Masters titles, he trails Nadal.
Sachin’s duty as a batsman is to score runs, which he has done perfectly, and so everyone trails behind him. But he has not scored any triple hundred in Tests, which is something he is missing definitely. Nor does he have the highest individual score in Tests or ODI’s, which are owned by Brian Lara and Virendra Sehwag respectively.
In terms of records, as of now, both seem to be equals. Whoever stays in the game longer will finally have an edge over the other.
Performing in finals:
Cricket is a team game and has never been played on a knockout basis, except during the first couple of versions of the mini-World Cup. On the other hand, in tennis, barring Davis Cup and ATP World Tour Finals, in all other tournaments, a person gets knocked out of a tournament once he loses a match. So a player needs to be at his best all through a tournament. Sachin Tendulkar can afford to get out cheaply in any of the games and more often than not, we have seen him performing well in most of the matches in World Cups, except during the knock-out stages of the game. He has failed to disturb the scorers much in the finals of the World Cups on more than a couple of occasions. Like I said, since it is a team game, he can still get away with it if others play well. But Federer has delivered in almost 75% of the finals he has played. He cannot afford to slip up at any point of time and yet has managed to win many titles in his career spanning just over a decade.
So, though Federer stands out here as a better man, considering the difference in the nature of games both players play, its impossible to pick one over the other. But I still think that since the mental strength of Federer is relatively higher than that of Sachin, the result goes in Federer’s favour, though not by much.
Thriving in all conditions:
Both Federer and Tendulkar have attained success because they are good all-round players, capable of playing their game everywhere. However, it has to be said that Federer’s claycourt record is a bit awful, considering the fact that he could win only one of the five French Open finals in which he has contested. But Tendulkar has been the player for India wherever they have toured. He has hit centuries in all conditions and has never been bothered by indifferent surfaces.
Though much tempted to give this one in Sachin’s favor, considering the fact that no one else except Nadal could challenge Federer on clay, I weigh both equally in this context.
So, considering the pros and cons of the two greats that I could muster, I have succeeded in putting it in black and white. I reserve my comment right now and I welcome the readers’ opinions first, putting them in the hot seat.