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Some people are calling Roger Federer, who just won the Australian Open and his 20th Grand Slam singles title, the greatest tennis player of all time. Is it possible to realistically compare great players (or teams) in any sport, for that matter, with those of prior eras?

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Well it depends on what the basis for the comparison is, how you measure it.

For as long as there have been 4 grand slams in the calendar, Federer has won more of them than anyone else - a full 5 calendars now. 

You look at Hakuho in sumo - he has even more calendar years of victories, counting 6 tournaments per year.

Both have the most wins of all time.

I am not sure which player in history you could look back to and say, "yeah he'd clean up Roger Federer any day". Nadal has a superior head-to-head record, but since Federer reinvented his backhand last year, that stat is no longer so relevant. Nadal might be able to accumulate has many victories if he can hold his body together long enough to do so, but I'd be betting against that. I tend to think it's unlikely anyone will surpass Federer in number of grand slam wins, for a long long time. It's not just Federer's tennis, but the fact that he can play so successfully with minimum damage to his body. He only injured his knee while chilling with his kids in the bathtub, or something like that.

But if you look at certain other sports where the rules are constantly being tweeked and changed, it's hard to compare, because the game is different as well as the number of games played per year. Some sports don't change so much though - soccer, baseball, come to mind.

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No, it is not possible.

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It is possible, but you cannot accurately compare eras as different people are playing the sport.

But the criteria is usually set in wins and championships obtained.

I don’t think many would argue that Sampras and Federer are the most dominant.

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Generally comparing across eras is difficult with so many variables.

But as fxgai said - Federer has won 20 grand slams, with a grand slam victory being the mark of the ultimate achievement. So no one is close.

The 4 grand slams have been around for ages for past players to win, so that crucial aspect hasn't changed. Laver never won 20 nor any of the other greats.

I'd suggest that in the modern era (now), players play so much more tennis, travel so much more, train so much more, are under fanatical media / fan attention so much more, that a grand slam victory is perhaps worth more considering the pressure on the players. But it isn't easy to compare.

But imho, Federer is the champion of all time. The stayer, The master.

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Sure. If this question is solely about male players. He could be up there.

Otherwise it's unrealistic and patriarchal same old same old.

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You obviously can't directly compare players or teams from different eras because they can't play each other, but I think the reason why we like to say "Greatest player or team of all time" is because of how much that player or team dominates the era they played in.

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Something to talk about in the pub.

I’ve always thought I’m more impressed with sports players who reach the peak in sports which are popular around the world and can be played by people from any background - there is more competition. A top footballer impresses me more than a top figure skater or polo player. Tennis is pretty popular but the top players aren’t usually kids from the slums.

Still, clearly a great player and a decent fella as far as I can see.

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