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June 8, 2009

Best Bias

With Roger Federer's French Open win his grand slam total have reached 14, tying him with Pete Sampras and swirling conversation if he's the best ever. There's certainly an argument to be made. The Swiss great has won every major Grand Slam and has managed to insert himself into ten straight Grand Slam finals until being upset by Novak Djokovik in the Australian Open in 2008. Until Nadal dethroned him in an epic Wimbledon final last year taking away his #1 ranking Federer had been the best in the world for 237 weeks. Other candidates have been bandied about as the best tennis player ever including Don Budge, Fred Perry, Roy Emerson and Rod Laver. Of the four, however, only Laver did a significant of competing in the Open era (1968-Current) achieving a year Grand Slam twice, once as an amateur and once as a professional. Laver was ranked #1 from 1964-1970.

The one name that will never be mentioned in this eternal debate and male-dominated list is Steffi Graf, wife of Andre Agassi. From 1987-1999 she accumulated 22 Grand Slam titles (yes, that's right, 22). Only Margaret Court has more singles titles, but over half came before the start of the Open Era. Graf was ranked #1 for 377 whopping weeks, more than any player, man or woman. Oh yes, and she has a Golden Slam, meaning she won the Australian, French, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and a Olympics gold medal all in the same year, a feat not duplicated by anyone else. In 2009 Billie Jean King called her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. After reviewing her accomplishments it might be time to expand the definition to include greatest tennis player ever. Her husband Andre, beloved the world over for his impact on the sport if not Grand Slam achievements (he has eight titles including a gold medal of his own) signed a lucrative publishing deal for his autobiography. As excited as I am to read his life's story, I would be happy for one page of publicity spotlighting Steffi's accomplishments.