World No. 4 Roger Federer is leading the race to be called the 'Greatest of all time (GOAT)', according to eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl.
In an interview with sports journalist Craig Gabriel, Lendl spoke extensively about the GOAT race - a topic that seems to split tennis fans like nothing else. In the eyes of the Czech-American, Roger Federer is currently ahead of his competitors courtesy his tally of 20 Grand Slam titles, an all-time record. However, Lendl also believes the race is not over yet.
"All you can say at the moment is that Roger is leading the race, but the race is not done and dusted," Lendl said. "Only when they retire, the race will get over and you will be able to judge. At the moment Roger is ahead in the race but the race is far from over."
During the interview, Lendl was also asked about two other players - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - who have staked strong claims to be called the GOAT. The former coach of Andy Murray and Alexander Zverev replied:
"It's between Novak, Rafa and Roger on who ends up with the most Majors and who is considered the best of all time in the Open era. That chapter is not written and it's going to be fascinating to watch."
Roger Federer has held the Slam record since Wimbledon 2009
A five-set win over American Andy Roddick at 2009 Wimbledon took Roger Federer past Pete Sampras (14) for most Grand Slam titles, and the Swiss has held the record ever since.
In recent times Rafael Nadal (19) and Novak Djokovic (17) have closed the gap in the all-time Grand Slam title leaderboard, but Federer is still at the top of the pile with 20.
Lendl touched on that too, but reinforced how unpredictable such records can be. He talked about how Pete Sampras' tally of 14 Grand Slam titles looked 'untouchable' for a while - before not one, but three guys surpassed the American's tally.
"I would have never thought after Pete got to 14 that it was not going to stand for a long time, and all of a sudden there is going to be three guys who are going to thrash his record. Who would have thought that, right?"
Interestingly, in an earlier interview with Gabriel, Lendl had expressed reservations over whether there could ever be a single 'greatest of all time'. The 11-time Grand Slam finalist had said the following in this regard:
"I don't think (it is realistic to call somebody the greatest of all time) because we have two different eras. In my mind there is one guy, Rod Laver, from the pre-Open era. Even though he won his second 'calendar year' Grand Slam in the post Open era (1969), he played most of his tennis in the pre Open era. Even if he had not won the 'calendar year' Grand Slam in 1962, he would have won a fair share of Majors between 1962 and 1968."
"I think Laver is the best in the pre-Open era. In the Open era it is much easier to judge. You just look at the record books, and we have a hell of a fight for who it will eventually be. I don't think you can compare the two eras, you have to separate them."
Is Roger Federer the GOAT of the Open Era?
As Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are still active in the sport, Lendl believes the 'book is not closed' on the GOAT issue. But the 60-year-old had no qualms in admitting that there was no greater player than Laver when tennis had yet to open its doors to professionals.
"Definitely Laver in the pre-Open Era, no doubt about it. For the Open Era, you have to go with Roger right now but I'm not closing the book on that. It's far from finished. Roger is 39 this year. Novak and Rafa are much younger and they will pay a bit longer. It is going to be one hell of a race to follow."