Barely hours after Andy Murray’s centrecourt tears at the Wimbledon trophy ceremony had dried, the All England Club started to shed its skin. The ever familiar green at the club was fast replaced with purple. The bald patches on the baselines of the manicured lawns turned green and grassy again thanks to pre-germinated seeds. Indeed, the All England Club was all set to host the Olympics games and this presented the athletes with a once in a lifetime chance to play at the club twice in a gap of three weeks and earn a medal for their country; for themselves. As it turned out, the Gold Medal match was contested between the same two players who had walked out as the last two men standing on the 8th of July at the Championships. Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
With the result of the Wimbledon final being a given, Federer was easily the favorite to bag perhaps the only thing apart from a Davis Cup triumph missing from his already overflowing resume – The Olympic Singles Gold Medal. However, a focused and ruthless display of tennis from Britain’s No.1 and some mediocre tennis by Federer himself ensured a comprehensive victory for Andy. Federer had to be content with a silver medal this time, and probably at age 31, although the man himself is still hopeful of competing at the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016; many would like to believe he won’t win a Singles Gold Medal ever.
So where does this take Federer? Does this affect his legacy as perhaps the greatest player to pick up a tennis racquet; if ever there was a Greatest of All Time (GOAT) concept?
The records Federer owns speak for themselves. Having won the most number of Grand Slams at 17, and being No.1 for a record 289 weeks and running, there’s hardly anyone who can challenge the Swiss superstar although critics would be quick to point out that an injury-free Nadal might just break his Slams record in the next couple of years. But then, an injury-free Nadal is quite a qualified adjective. Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal are the only players in the Open Era to have a won all four majors and the Olympics Singles Gold; dubbed as the Golden Career Grand Slam. Agassi went to the extent of proclaiming that his 1996 Gold Medal run at the Atlanta Olympics was his most significant achievement in tennis. Federer, too, said he would like to win the Singles Gold at the start of the Olympic tennis tournament.
Come to think of it, had Agassi not won the Olympic Gold in 1996 or had Rafa not won the medal in 2008 at Beijing, would they have not been considered as great tennis players? Looking at the flip side, can Andy Murray’s Gold Medal triumph mean that he would be considered one of the great players of all time even if he, god forbid, fails to win a Grand Slam? Does Pete Sampras fall short of the GOAT debate because he never won a Singles Gold at the Olympics?
Let’s switch the sport for a moment. Even if India had not won the World Cup in 2011, and Sachin Tendulkar had retired without laying his hands on the coveted trophy, had that been a reason to exclude him from the all-time great debate? The debate may have been more relevant in case of someone, or anyone except Roger. For someone who has been No.1 for a record consecutive 237 weeks, owns a record of reaching 23 straight Slam semi-finals, 10 straight slam finals, the only player to have won two separate Slams (Wimbledon and US Open) for 5 straight years, the only player to have won 3 Grand Slams in a year three times, (2004,’06,’07) and someone who is the only player to have won the ATP World Tour Finals 6 times, there’s no way not winning an Olympic gold would affect his legacy.
Tennis is pre-dominantly an individual game. Talks of players putting their country before self may well seem out of place; which also partly explains why top players at times even skip Davis Cup to prepare for upcoming major tournaments. Although winning an Olympic gold medal for the country is every athlete’s dream, the fact that Olympic tennis is played over a three set format and not five sets (except for the final), makes it more vulnerable to shock results and upsets as we have witnessed in previous editions of the games. (remember Marc Rosset of Switzerland walking away with the Singles Gold in 1992 Barcelona Olympics?) Just goes to show that the Games, although significant, are no litmus test for tennis greats; certainly not if you are Roger Federer.
To sum it up; as the great Rod Laver put it, “ I would rate Roger Federer as the greatest player of all time if there ever was one”, he would go on to add that asterisk without which Roger’s mention as the GOAT would never be complete or perhaps valid, “And Rafa would come in a close second.” Dare go against a man of Laver’s caliber, who has literally lived the game all his life. This, despite missing out on Gold, on the Golden Career Grand Slam.