We invest respect in geniuses of the past out of a sense of nostalgia. Such nods to tradition are also an acknowledgement that present greats stand upon the shoulders of giants. In cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has made more runs against a wider range of teams stocked with better bowlers and fielders than the ones Don Bradman encountered; it is nevertheless considered bad form to speak of them in the same breath. The reluctance to displace Bradman from the top of the hierarchy of cricket greats has much to do with our subconscious inclination to equate 100 with perfection, the mystical value of his batting average of 99.94—so far ahead of the nearest competition—and the fact that it has stood the assault of time. But it also has to do with indulging romanticism.
When you compare Federer and Nadal at their peak (which is all that matters), to me it appears Nadal’s bloody-mindedness ultimately settles the issue. Nadal has always been more threatening in Wimbledon finals against Federer than Federer ever was in French Open finals against Nadal. He has overcome everything from banged-up knees to his parents’ divorce. This is a man who sticks to a singular purpose. If indeed Federer were the greatest, how is it that he is only second-best at the art of mental disintegration in his own era?
Read more here.