Modern day GOATs: This is the greatest ever era for watching sports

Tom Clarke Roar Pro

By Tom Clarke, Tom Clarke is a Roar Pro

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    Roger Federer’s historic eighth Wimbledon victory is a reminder that we are living at a truly incredible time for watching sports.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t alive to watch Donald Bradman, Rod Laver, Reg Gasnier or Muhammad Ali. However, over the past two decades I have had the privilege to witness some of the all-time greatest athletes in history.

    Despite my youth, I have been able to watch a staggering number of GOATs do what they do best.

    Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam in 2003, and basically hasn’t stopped winning ever since. At 35 years old, the Fed Express now has 19 major tournament victories, more than anyone else in history.

    Roger Federer

    (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

    Significantly, Federer has been consistently challenged by quality opposition like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. It is fraught to assess the historical significance of someone’s career before it ends, but Federer already has a case as the greatest tennis player of all time. And he looks a long way from being finished.

    Arguably, the same period has also contained the greatest ever female tennis player, as Serena Williams has consistently destroyed her competition, winning 39 combined singles and doubles titles since 2002.

    The past decade has also given rise to two of the greatest Olympians in history – Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. The 2008 Olympics saw Bolt explode into the sporting consciousness as the fastest man in history, while Phelps broke the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics as he swept all comers in the pool.

    Elsewhere in the sporting world, LeBron James is a top three all-time basketballer and a legitimate challenger to Michael Jordan’s GOAT status. Jordan’s career had ended by the time I began to watch the NBA, but watching James’ dominance has been breathtaking.

    In particular, his performance in the 2017 Finals where he averaged a triple-double was phenomenal to watch.

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, shoots against the Golden State Warriors

    (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    In the NFL, Tom Brady (five x Super Bowl wins and two x MVPs) and Peyton Manning (two x Super Bowl wins and five x MVPs) are both top-five, all-time quarterbacks.

    Closer to home, five NRL players have played Immortal-level careers in the past fifteen years (Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater), while Gary Ablett Jr, Chris Judd and Lance Franklin could all be Legends in the AFL Hall of Fame one day.

    Adam Gilchrist revolutionised the role of the wicketkeeper, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are the two greatest wicket takers in Test cricket history, while Sachin Tendulkar became the best batsman since Bradman.

    Naturally, this article risks accusations of recency bias and those are not necessarily unfair. But I think sometimes we give so much respect to the past that we forget to appreciate the present. Not only have the athletic performances of the past decade been incredible, but increased television coverage and the global reach of the internet has allowed us to watch it all from the comfort of our homes.

    It easy for us to be blinded by nostalgia, assuming that legends from the past can never be bettered. And perhaps one day I’ll look back and tell my grandkids how much better things were back in my day. But for now, I’m just happy to appreciate what the sporting landscape has on offer right now, living among the GOATS.

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    The Crowd Says (40)

    • July 18th 2017 @ 6:35am
      express34texas said | July 18th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

      James isn’t even close to top 3 ever. As great he’s supposedly played this year, KD clearly outperformed him in the Finals, and James was no better than 3rd best player during the regular season and that was with KD getting injured. So many low-level stars/role players have outplayed James in the playoffs before.

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        July 18th 2017 @ 6:54am
        Zac Standish said | July 18th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

        Lebron was the best player in the finals, the bloke averaged a triple double and just balled out. KD very good but still in the shadow of the king.

        • July 19th 2017 @ 2:25am
          express34texas said | July 19th 2017 @ 2:25am | ! Report

          Not even close, did you watch the finals? KD was certainly better offensively, and actually had a much wider gap better defensively where James was often not engaged including not hustling back on defense many times.

    • July 18th 2017 @ 6:46am
      bazza said | July 18th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      I think it’s down to sports science as good players can play much longer than they use to enabling really good players to have longer careers and have more dominate stat’s So a great player due to being able to play longer becomes an all time great.
      There are many great players of the past cut down my injuries and therefore just become good players.

      But alot of these players are amazing i will admit but the frequency increase has to do with the support and health knowledge

    • July 18th 2017 @ 6:59am
      Galatzo said | July 18th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      Good article, Tom. I’d say that every era as we go forward will be the greatest for watching sports due to advancing technology. They have hologram coverage in the labs already but it will be some time before your TV is a beam in the ceiling and you can be fieldside or courtside or trackside in an event that will fill your room. As to who was better than whom, the techies will be able to feed all data about a person into a large-scale quantum computer and have Laver playing Federer, a vintage Wallaby team playing the 2017 version of the ABs, Bradman batting against Warne. And so on.

    • July 18th 2017 @ 9:04am
      rakshop said | July 18th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Reading articles like this annoys me. A week after Andy Murray called out (and was rightly applauded) for calling out the casual sexism in tennis, its interesting to read that Serena Williams’ achievements are always registered as an afterthought – and always with the tag of being the greatest ‘female’ tennis player. And yet Roger is never called the ‘greatest male tennis’ player.

      • July 18th 2017 @ 9:11am
        Michael said | July 18th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        If Federer played Serena he would obviously beat her. Now this isn’t taking anything away from Serena Williams; she’s a champion and her record backs this up. However saying that she is the greatest tennis player ever implies that she could beat anyone who’s ever played. Since this is clearly not true, we just call her the greatest woman (not that Margaret Court was bad).

        • July 18th 2017 @ 9:41am
          rakshop said | July 18th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          I dont buy this “Roger would beat Serena in a game of tennis so therefore he must be the best” argument because under your logic when the next generation of players become bigger and faster than Roger, he can no longer be considered the best of all time. In 20 years time, if Roger had to play them he would lose. Which is exactly the same as your argument, just using age as the categorisation instead of sex.

          On the flip side what if Serena comes back and starts winning grand slams again???? What if Serena comes back and wins another 10 grand slams????? 20????? Using your logic, how many more than Roger does she have to win to be considered the greatest of all time???? The answer will be ‘infinity’ because Roger would be able to beat her, which is a sad reflection of society and completely undermines the legacy of all female tennis players.

          Or the simple solution that makes the point completely moot is if start referring to Roger as the “greatest male tennis player of all time”. Its not that hard to insert one word is it?????

          • July 18th 2017 @ 10:02am
            BrainsTrust said | July 18th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

            The next generation of tennis players?
            They are rubbish both men and women that is why Federer and Williams are winning so much now.
            Serena WIlliams didn;t even dominate over Henin, she has relied on other players retiring and collecting most of her titles when there was less competition.
            Navritalova, Graf,Seles would have been better let alone comparing her to Margaret Court.

            • July 19th 2017 @ 4:59pm
              Simoc said | July 19th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

              Yes Margaret Court wouldn’t win a game off any of the modern day players.
              She played and got her titles prior to the professional modern era.
              Mostly known around the world for her religious views rather than her tennis.

              But isn’t our own Nathan Lyon known as the GOAT.
              These title things are somewhat meaningless but pass the time!

              • July 24th 2017 @ 4:54pm
                BrainsTrust said | July 24th 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

                You got be kidding. Margaret Court she almost got another grand slam in 73 straight after having a child she was clearly better than Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navritolova. I think she would easily dominate in the current age, where they are more hopeless than ever. Serena Williams is a 35 year old who could not dominate as well when she was at a younger age and she has won more titles recently.
                As far as her religious belief its a big suspicion that her match with Bobby Riggs was rigged because Riggs put a big bet for the exact score saying he had seen it in a dream and Court was known to be friends with the men on the old pro circuit, Match fixing is against conservative religious beliefs while being anti gay rights is certainly not.

          • July 18th 2017 @ 10:24am
            me too said | July 18th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

            Or you could simply use those terms yourself and not try to impose your own thought speech on others?

            • July 18th 2017 @ 10:57am
              rakshop said | July 18th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

              I apologise for offensive statements about equality. How dare I ever think that a female sports stars should ever deserve any equal recognition even in theoretical discussions. I have come to my senses and realised I should advocate that females sports stars are not, and never will be as important as their male counterparts. Because they are not equal. They are inferior and should be treated as inferior.

              So I apologise me too….. you are correct. They dont deserve any recognition and I will not impose of my speech on others.

              • July 18th 2017 @ 11:57am
                MrRealist_81 said | July 18th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

                You are comparing apples and oranges. Serena is a phenomenal athlete and, in most people’s eyes, the greatest female tennis player of all time. I just don’t understand your need for her to be recognised as the “GOAT” period. Because in that argument, and in the world of TRUE equality, you must compare her record with ALL tennis players (which in this case includes people of all or no defined genders). In this case, most people agree that Roger Federer is the GOAT. By all means include her in this debate, just don’t be so selective with when equality applies; because selective equality is not equality…

              • July 18th 2017 @ 1:25pm
                I ate pies said | July 18th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

                Let me get this right; Roger is better than Serena, but Serena should be called the greatest of all time because she’s a woman and equality, even though if all things were equal Roger would beat her? Riiighhhttt

              • July 18th 2017 @ 3:58pm
                MrRealist_81 said | July 18th 2017 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

                Its clear that Roger is the GOAT, and a better player than Serena. I also find the controversy surround John McEnroe’s comments equally as remarkable. He also acknowledged and called Serena the “greatest womens tennis player of all time”. What most media outlets have ignored is that he was then asked “why not the greatest ever player”. He merely responded to this question, yet the media twisted this into some sort of sexist comment.

                Facts don’t lie. Federer has beaten the best players on the planet in his career and is therefore considered better than the rest. Serena has NOT beaten the best players on the planet and therefore would struggle to be considered in any gender neutral GOAT discussion.

        • July 18th 2017 @ 10:52am
          Bbl said | July 18th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          Of course ‘he’ll’ beat ‘her’… Lol…

    • July 18th 2017 @ 9:53am
      BrainsTrust said | July 18th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      The other candidates for best ever in tennis won consistently across the major portion of their careers.
      If you look at Federer he was behind Nadal,Djokovic and Murray at their peaks and he didn’t win grand slams at all for quite a period when he was younger than he is now.
      The other player Rosewall who went on when he was older he had a lot more younger competition in Newcombe 10 years younger and then finally COnnors about 18 years younger who Rosewall got bludgeoned by when he was 39 in two grand slam finals.
      There is no young player anywhere near Newcombe for Federer to compete with now let alone a Jimmy COnnors.

    • July 18th 2017 @ 10:04am
      clipper said | July 18th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      There’s no doubt this is the best tennis era, especially for men, ever. Three of the top 5 players, and players like Warinka winning 3 GS’s can’t get higher than 3 in the rankings.
      With sports like tennis, basketball, Oylmpics, you have to factor in that the growth has been significant, therefore the chances of greater and better athletes is increased. In Cricket, there hasn’t been the same growth, and you can argue there have been better eras and bigger stars. For sports like league and squash, there has been decline, so that you can say 50-70 years ago there was much better competition – England, France and Wales were competitive, so more chances to raise the international game higher, but participation has dropped significantly. Squash has also fallen a lot – Geoff Hunt, Heather McKay – can’t see stars like that happening again.

      • July 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm
        Craig said | July 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

        I disagree with it being the best era of tennis. The Sampras era for mine was far stronger.

        Look at the top 20 from 1998.

        11 players won grand slams, most of them multiple.

        Here’s the players in the top 20 who didn’t win a slam.
        Cedric Pioline made 2 finals.
        Philippousis 2 finals
        Tim Henman 6 semi-finals
        Felix Mantilla 1 semi final
        Alex Corretja – 2 finals
        Marcelo Rio 1 final
        Greg Rusedski 1 final,
        Jan Siemerink (not sure how he snuck into the top 20 to be honest)
        Karol Kucera (1 semi final)
        Todd Martin (1 final, 2 semi finals)

        Based on rankings from 3 July, you only have 6 guys who have won Grand Slams.

        The rest of the top 20 is made up of blokes like Kyrgios with 2 quarter finals appearances, Roberto Bautista and Jack Sock Agut who have never been past the 4th round, Pablo Carreno Busta 1 QF and next best is 3rd round, David Goffin – 2 x QF, Monfils 1 x SF, Tsonga 1 final, Zverev 4th round, Dimitrov 4th round, Thiem 1 SF.

        I realise the comparison is flawed as many of these guys are still young (Zverev is very young) and have some years ahead to prove themselves and build on their current resume. But I don’t think it will compare.

        The argument then is, is their less depth now? Or are the top 3-4 guys now so good that it limits opportunities for others?

        If you look at the top 20 from 1994, only 4 of the top 20 never won a grand slam (Magnus Larrson, Medvedev, Ferreira, Berasategui) – Medvedev and Berasategui both made finals.

        I’ve just picked a few random years of the Sampras era. But these eras had incredible depth. Nowadays you’re struggling to see much quality outside of the top 10.

        • July 18th 2017 @ 4:13pm
          clipper said | July 18th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

          I would argue completely the other way – the Sampras era was very weak. There was an article on the roar in April highlighting this.

          If we compare the top 5 of different eras, todays top 5 (as it was in April) would be the greatest of all time with the number of slams each of the top 5 won.
          Here are a few of top five in other eras
          1 Jimmy Connors (USA) 8
          2 John Newcombe (AUS) 8
          3 Björn Borg (SWE) 11
          4 Rod Laver (AUS) 11
          5 Guillermo Vilas (ARG) 3
          1974 41
          1 Ivan Lendl 8
          2 John McEnroe 7
          3 Mats Wilander 7
          4 Jimmy Connors 8
          5 Stefan Edberg 6
          1986 36
          1 Jim Courier 4
          2 Stefan Edberg 7
          3 Pete Sampras 14
          4 Goran Ivanišević 1
          5 Boris Becker 6
          1992 32
          1 Pete Sampras 14
          2 Marcelo Ríos 0
          3 Àlex Corretja 0
          4 Patrick Rafter 2
          5 Carlos Moyà 1
          1996 17
          This year the top 5 have 50 titles (51 now) between them – a stunning 34 more than 1996..
          So, you are correct in assuming that the top 3-4 make it so much harder for the next batch of the top 20 to win GS. The top 20 from there doesn’t even look stronger than now. Apart from Rios, most of the top 20 would have no trouble with the 1998 lot (maybe Phillopusous on a good day would go alright)

          • July 18th 2017 @ 6:37pm
            Craig said | July 18th 2017 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

            As I said, it can be argued either way.

            IMO measuring the number of grand slams the top 5 players have won is an extremely flawed thought process. You can easily argue the top 4-5 players dominated, because the rest of the field is weak.

            If titles are spread across more players in that era, it is logical to assume that there is a greater amount of talent around.

          • July 18th 2017 @ 7:21pm
            Craig said | July 18th 2017 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

            I wrote a really long response comparing some of the draws that Sampras and Federer have had to win their titles. I can’t be bothered going back, but:

            Their respective first titles.

            2003 Wimbledon from the 4th round Federer beat:
            Feliciano Lopez, Sjeng Schalken, Andy Roddick and Mark Phillippoussis

            1990 US Open, from the 4th round Sampras beat:
            Muster, Lendl, McEnroe and Agassi.

            Their respective most recent titles:

            2002 US Open – Sampras beat Rusedski, Haas, Roddick, Schalken, Agassi
            2017 Wimbledon – Federer beat Zverev, Dimitrov, Raonic, Berdych and Cilic

            Not exactly the same class of lineups are they?

            • July 19th 2017 @ 10:16am
              clipper said | July 19th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

              Well, the 2003 Wimbledon and 2002 US open look pretty even to me – Roddick was not in the top 10 when facing Sampras and 5 when facing Federer and would finish the year No.1, so higher seed than Agassi who was six.
              No one can dispute Federer had an easy run this year, but in 1990 Lendl was on the decline and McEnroe was way past his prime not even in the top 10.
              If we look at the 2nd last GS win we get:
              2000 Wimbledon Sampras beat Gimblestob, Bjorkman,Gambil, Volchtkov and Rafter
              2017 AO Federer faced Berdych, Nishikori, Zverev, Warwinka and Nadal
              Not even remotely in the same class of line up – Sampras faced no one in the top 10.
              Easy to pick different lineups to suit the argument.

              • July 19th 2017 @ 1:34pm
                Craig said | July 19th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

                McEnroe started the year at #5, went up to #4 after the US Open and ended at #13. So actually, he was in the top 10.

                “Lendl was on the decline” in 1990. What are you talking about? He started the year ranked #1 and ended at #3? He won the Australian Open that year.

              • July 19th 2017 @ 3:31pm
                clipper said | July 19th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                No, that is incorrect – he was seeded 4 at Wimbledon, as they seed their own way, lost in the first round and wasn’t seeded at the US Open. He hadn’t got to a final since 1985. Lendl was no. 1 the year before, no. 3 that year, no. 5 the next, never won a major tournament after the 1990 AO, I would say that’s decline, not static or improving.

              • July 19th 2017 @ 8:36pm
                Craig said | July 19th 2017 @ 8:36pm | ! Report

                “As at 1 Jan 1990” Lendl was #1 in the world. I’m not sure how you can’t understand that.

                As at 31 December 1990, Lendl was #3 in the world. He won an Australian open in 1990.

                Of course Lendl was sliding, but he was the current #1 in the world a the start of the year and current Australian Open champion He also lost in the semi’s at Wimbledon. . How on earth could you possibly try and cheapen a victory over him?

                I didn’t talk about a seeding at Wimbledon. I said, McEnroe started the year as number 5.

                If you’re really going to argue that Sampras’s wins over Muster, Lendl, McEnroe and Agassi is somehow less impressive that Federers run of Feliciano Lopez, Sjeng Schalken, Andy Roddick and Mark Phillippoussis, then I can’t help you my friend. I want some of whatever you’re taking.

                If you’re going to use rankings as a tool. I can’t see what Phillippoussis was ranked, but he wasn’t in the top 36 seeds, Roddick was seeded 5, Schalken was 8.

                Yet somehow you’re discrediting Lendl at #3, Agassi at #4, Muster at #6.

                Sampras beat the #3, 4 , 6 and McEnroe on his way to the title.

                How can you possibly argue anything different!!

              • July 20th 2017 @ 5:28am
                express34texas said | July 20th 2017 @ 5:28am | ! Report

                McEnroe never won a GS after age 25, and he was 31 in 1990.

                Craig, it’s possible there could be more talent if titles are spread out more, but not necessarily. The top players might just not let anyone else win because they’re just so good. I think it’s pretty obvious this is easily the greatest era in tennis history. Look at all the talented guys just outside the top 5 and the entire depth of the ATP.

                It’s also not completely accurate to just look at the guys a particular player beats en route to a title, that’s not really how tennis works. You need to look at the entire field of the tourney. Nadal, Murray, Djoker, and Stanimal were all present at Wimby this year, all big-time players. Fed just didn’t have to play any of them because others beat them along the way. That’s how tennis works. But, the overall field of the top guys at Wimby this year was phenomenal.

              • July 20th 2017 @ 9:46am
                clipper said | July 20th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

                I didn’t say Lendl wasn’t no. 3, it’s just that you’ve picked what was probably Sampras hardest run to win against Federers easiest run, this is the whole point – I did not say the 2017 W run was better than 1990 US. If you compared that same run against Federers run at the AO 2017, they are pretty similar, with Fed facing one more top 10 player. express34texas explains it pretty well too. Muster may have been 6 at the time, but that was purely on his clay prowess – he never got past a US QF,

            • July 20th 2017 @ 6:45pm
              Craig said | July 20th 2017 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

              Clipper I didn’t pick Sampras’s hardest runs against Federers easiest. I picked both of their first and last grand slams won. Not a random sample, first and last grand slams won.

              Both of Federers happened to be weak, that’s all.

              Maybe you’re too young to have actually seen tennis more than 5 years ago, or I don’t know. 15 years ago guys in the top 50 all had a chance of having an impression on a grand slam.

              Nowadays, anyone outside the top 10 is fairly rubbish and can only hope to make the quarters.

              You can look at it either way as I said, but I really think the quality of players outside of the top 10 is incredibly low compared to previous era’s. I still agree that Federer and Nadal are two of the best of all time, but that doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the field has drifted incredibly.

              • July 21st 2017 @ 9:35am
                clipper said | July 21st 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

                It’s a pretty arbitrary decision and one that you made – that’s why my criteria was the second last GS won, which clearly Federer has the much harder run. It has to be viewed over the entire career, not just two examples.
                As explained by myself and express34texas, the reason most players can’t get to the SF or QF today is that the top 4 are so dominant. Warinka who has won 3 GS can’t get higher that 3 in the world – that would never have happened in the ’90s.
                I agree with Duecer the Connors / Borg / McEnroe, Laver / Rosewall eras were way better than the 90’s as well, in fact most eras I would place above the ’90’s.
                I think since the Americans did well in the ’90’s a few people want to believe it was a strong era.

              • July 21st 2017 @ 12:31pm
                express34texas said | July 21st 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                Craig, way to go out on a limb and say ‘Fed/Nadal are two of the greatest all-time.’ That should be pretty obvious to say the least.

                Fed winning 2017 Wimby was weak, huh? Arguably 3 of the greatest players of all-time were in the draw. I think you’re dreaming if you think top 50 guys could win GS 15 years ago in 2002. Even if that’s remotely true, that’s telling me that era was pretty bad. And then you’re saying Fed’s 2003 Wimby title was easy, just one year later. How did the tour change that much from 2002 to 2003?

                The top guys are just so good, has been for awhile, that’s why we don’t see guys outside of the top 10 even coming close to winning GS.

                In Fed’s prime, he wouldn’t let lose to anyone outside of top 4-5 ever in GS. Nadal continued this to a lesser extent, and Djoker to a lesser extent after that. I don’t think Sampras’ era was as easy as clipper suggests, but it’s certainly not close to today’s era. Sampras, Agassi, etc. never could be dominant at every single GS like Fed, or even Nadal/Djoker.

      • July 19th 2017 @ 8:24am
        duecer said | July 19th 2017 @ 8:24am | ! Report

        Jahangir Khan was as good, if not better than Hunt, but your point is valid – sport is quite fluid – some increase in popularity, some decline. Squash missed out as it doesn’t really play that well on TV, and without that you lose your big money. It’s a shame about RL – was a strong competitive game with England ahead of Australia, but it has declined so much over there for a variety of reasons – immigration being the big one, that I can’t see it ever getting back to it’s former glory.
        Have to side with clipper – the Sampras era was pretty weak – Laver/Rosewall, Connors/Borg/McEnroe and this era are much stronger. His main rival, Agassi went missing for a few years, and the other stars were on their way out. There is no doubt Federer had an easy draw this time around, but you can’t always get to face 4 top 10 players in a row like he did in the AO – it would be easy to cherry pick and find a weak draw that Sampras faced, slightly easier for Federer as he’s had 5 more wins.

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