I know Tennisplanet wrote the above article last year to make a point in comparing Federer to Borg and in so doing I presumed he had hoped to impress or state categorically that his collection of rather meagre statistical assessment would be a sufficient and imposing conclusion to such a debate or discussion on this topic. I would like to disagree for many reasons. I am just a tennis tragic, so I hold no water with my personal opinion over anyone else’s and will make no attempt to do so in what follows. I have submitted many articles over the last few years at various websites on this subject as to who I believe is the greatest tennis player ever and that can only be between Borg and Federer so, I would therefore like to weigh in and run amok with respect to the above limited aspect on this discussion.
To add to your assessment of your own statistics you may like to consider that the half dozen bagels Federer has dished out compared to Borg’s 2 would more than likely be a case of weaker opponents that Federer had to play en route over the stronger opposition that Borg had to play his way past. Conjecture only, but as healthy a regard for the possible reason as you have put forward. Having witnessed both careers from beginning to end (in Borg’s case at least), I know that the version of explanation I have proposed on this week analysis to exclaim greatness is more likely a scenario. You can also add in at this point that the ability to win close matches is what separates champions from the contenders. Also, Federer is the first person to have won a Grand Slam title (2007 Australian Open) since Borg to have not dropped a set, so many great players have come and gone since Borg and Federer’s dominance and they never mustered that statistic, it took these two amazing champions to again separate themselves from all the great players that have gone before them. Bagels do not win Grand Slam’s.
Here we go with some facts to separate conclusively the prowess and greatness reserved for these two champions of our great game of tennis. In no particular order or wow factor are these presented, nor bias shown, jusat plain facts anyone can research or look up.
1. Davis Cup records … Bjorn Borg is the only player in Davis Cup history to have never lost a singles match whilst playing for his country (Sweden), his record 33 wins, 0 losses. Compare that to Federer’s current record of 26 wins and 10 losses.
2. Borg had won 50+ tournaments by the age of 23, Sampras was almost or just past the age of 26 to be the 5th youngest ever to have amassed 50+ tournament victories, Lendl being the second youngest at 25. Federer last year displaced Sampras and is now the 5th youngest player to have won 50+ tournaments, relegating Sampras to the 6th youngest. That is a difference of 3 years in Borg’s favour, and it is not as though it was by a couple of months either, as was the case when Federe dislodged Sampras by a mere 3 months. A 3 year gap to achieve this milestone separates Borg from Federer and this includes all players in history not just recent players. With many more tournaments on the circuit these days and higher prize-money being offered, the chance to win more tournaments each year for the greatest players exist now than when Borg or his predecessors were playing the circuit. When you consider Borg won almost 90% (actually 89. of matches in his whole career compared with 81% for Federer and Nadal is at 82% currently, the difference there again is quite marked and again in Borg’s favour. Let’s sit back and watch Nadal most likely trump Federer and Sampras and possibly Lendl in this statistic, he is en-route with the current tournament in Cincinnati to win his 31st tournament and he is only 22 years old going on 23. I don’t believe he can win 20 tournaments in 18 months to eclipse Borg but it is looking more and more likely he will pass the others on this one, if his dominance on court that he exudes at the moment continues.
3. Borg won 3 back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles which can be compared to Federer’s 3 years of back-to-back Wimbledon and US Open titles. However, on the comparison of these incredible feats, Nadal is the first player since Borg to have won the French / Wimbledon double and Borg won it 3 years in a row. Whereas, I believe Sampras, Edberg, Willander, McEnroe and Connors have all won the Wimbledon / US Open doubles. Which gives some audacity and validity to the claim the French / Wimbledon double is the harder one to do, and Borg did it thrice consecutively. Also, credit here must go to Laver with his 2 x Grand Slams as having also achieved both feats on 2 separate occasions in 1962 and 1969.
4. Borg won his 11 Grand Slam titles in 27 attempts which equates to 40.7% success rate in winning a Grand Slam title. Federer’s 12 titles have so far come from 37 attempts and this equates to a 32.4% success rate in winning a grand Slam title. Nadal has won 5 Grand Slam titles from his 18 attempts, equating to 27.7% and rising I believe. Sampras’s record 14 Grand Slam titles however is not as flattering, taking him 51 attempts to achieve this milestone which is statistically not as impressive at all equating only to a 27.4 success rate in winning his 14 Grand Slam titles over 15 years and even Sampras’s best 9 years on the circuit which was the number of years Borg played on the circuit for would summarise as 12 titles from 36 attempts and this equates to 33.3% (from 1993 – 2001). So no matter how one wants to play or manipulate the statistics, no one is close to Borg’s percentage of success in Grand Slam titles won.
5. Looking further into these players Grand Slam records; Borg never once lost in the first round of any Grand Slam, and of his 27 attempts he made the finals a further 5 times, which is a phenomenal 16 attempts out of 27 he made the finals or better (59.2%). Compare this to Federer; who has lost in the first round on 6 occasions and his 4 losing final appearances coupled with his 12 wins, that is 16 attempts out of 37 times in which he made the finals or better (43.2%). Sampras’s records here are on 7 occasion he lost in the first round and on 4 occasions he was a losing finalist which adds up to 18 from 51 (35.3%). Nadal currently has also never to this point lost in the first round and has to date appeared in 2 losing finals against Federer which is 7 from 18 (38.9%).
6. Grand Slams – Only on 5 occasions out of his 27 attempts did Borg not make the Quarter Finals or better (an amazingly low 18.5%). Federer however, on 16 occasions in his 37 attempts failed to make it to the Quarter finals or better (a rather high 43.2%). Sampras on 22 occasions from his 51 attempts failed to make it to the quarter finals or better (a similarly high 43.1%). Currently Nadal has on 8 occasions not made it to the quarter finals or better (also similar to Federer and Sampras at 44.4%).
7. Borg’s greatness and legacy spawned a tennis playing nation from a previous minnow nation (e.g. Willander, Edberg, Bjorkman, Jarrad, Pernfors and many others). Federer as yet has not spawned any fellow Swiss players that are in the top 10-20 in world rankings, this may well change over time. Nadal is a product of a Spanish rich pool of talent. Sampras is the last great player of the most dominant playing nation ever, with Roddick and Blake being the most impressively credentialed players that have followed him in the current talent.
I could go on …. but anyone who has read this far and knows anything about sports and specifically tennis will know or now realise that as great as Federer really is and possibly Nadal is proving to be an even greater player than Federer based on the undeniably incredible statistic that he leads Federer 12 to 6 in career head-to-head meetings and seems to be improving all the time as compared to Federer’s 2008 record of 1 tournament win and 14 losses this year alone, Federer can not be called or regarded as the greatest player of all time if he is not even the greatest player of his own era and neither he, Nadal nor Sampras has a record in any statistical analysis you want to conjure up to be equal or better than Borg’s.
Add to this consideration also that Borg never visited Australia after his one and only attempt in 1974, which was his first year on the circuit. He along with many other top players (including Connors) over his years as a player boycotted Australia for various reasons. The fact that the Australian open back then was played on grass at Christmas, would allow you to conjecture as to how many times Borg would have won the Australian open during those years if he had come considering his pedigree at Wimbledon, his dominance on grass and all surfaces and his 90% winning record. He cannot be blamed nor prejudiced for not coming to Australia back then in accumulating his records against players like Federer, Sampras and Nadal who do now include the Australian Open in their calendar as do all the top players since the Melbourne Tennis Centre opened in 1988.
So all hail to the unequivocal greatest player of all time; Bjorn Borg and once and for all know and acknowledge that Federer’s records can never match nor surpass Borg’s from any statistical stance including the bagel attempt. To conclude I would have no hesitation in saying if time and careers had met for Borg and Federer, Borg’s percentages would never have dropped even 1% with Federer being present, that is how dominant Borg was and for those of us who were lucky enough to see Borg play and witness Federer’s great reign would know that to be true, he was not called Ice-Borg for nothing and Federer’s mental fragility and susceptibility was and always has been there, Hewitt exposed it in the early years, Nadal has cruelled it in the recent years and many lower ranked players have now discovered it in 2008. Borg would never have allowed Federer to lift 1 Wimbledon crown if their careers had clashed, nor Nadal a French crown if he had also played in the same era as Borg, that is how dominant Borg was on clay and grass. His worst surface was the hard courts but it took the talents and confidence of both Connors or McEnroe to deny him a US Open title, both of who would also have challenged Federer’s dominance if they had met in parallel careers.
Thanks for reading my compilation and contribution to this wonderful debate and topic …. I believe the facts speak loud enough and Borg was and still is the greatest player of all time, with Laver and Federer alone together on the second rung of greatness with Nadal possibly about to spoil the party. Sampras, Connors, Gonzales, Hoad, Rosewell and Lendl would be pecking behind these tennis greats with the McEnroe’s, Willanders, Edbergs, Agassi’s, Emmerson’s, Becker’s and Trabert’s jockeying a hare’s breath away.