I think it’s undebatable that Roger Federer has proven himself to the be the best (male) tennis player of all time. Why is he the best? What is it about him (physically) that has allowed him to amass the most grand slams wins of all time?
We could (and should) look at athletic attributes like accuracy. He is among the most accurate (1st & 2nd serve %s, unforced errors, etc) of all male tennis players. And accuracy is of prime import in all sports.
Federer is fairly fast. While he is fast, he’s certainly not at the top tier of speed. He has good foot work, though…and we’ll see this technical expertise across all aspects of his game.
Why is Federer the best of all time? Is it his: forehand, backhand, serve, return of serve, lack of unforced errors, or his footwork? I don’t believe it’s any of those things.
I look at athletes through a Biomechanic’s and Anatomist’s eyes. And Federer looks very different than other tennis players. The easy comparison is Rafael Nadal.
Half of Rafa’s body – even his face – is “muscular-ized.” Federer almost looks devoid of muscle. He is muscularly unbound.
So how did someone so un-muscular as Federer become the best tennis player of all time? Whenever you think of tennis, you may not think of muscle, but what about Serena Williams?
Or from an earlier era, Andre Agassi, or even earlier Martina Navratilova? Pete Sampras had quite a bit more muscle than Roger, too.
He doesn’t have much muscle, but what about height? There are people with greater height (Federer is only 6’1”). Surely reach plays a factor. Nope, nothing special about his wingspan.
The fact that Federer isn’t heavily muscled, particularly tall, and not the best in any one area tells us a few things about why he’s the GOAT in tennis. What if not being the best at any one thing…is the key to being the best? From a BioMechanical POV, I think that’s exactly right.
Whenever we’re the best at any one thing, we favor that one thing. We do it more. And whatever we do the most, changes us the most.
Our body’s tissues adapt to make the movements we make easier and the rest of the movements harder. To have an incredible serve requires us to siphon motion from other parts of our game. A well rounded game leads to a well balanced body.
And a well balanced body allows for longevity. And that’s what really makes Federer the GOAT. He’s had more opportunities to win because he’s been injured less while playing much more. The lesson is this: Aim towards being better at everything not just the being best at any one thing…and you’re one step closer to being the GOAT.