Backstory: Who's the more dominant sportsman: Woods or Federer?
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"I feel that Federer is amazing," Wallechinsky says. "He doesn't, quote – have the personality – but his sport has been around for a long, long time, and I give him credit for being dominant in that sport."Skip to next paragraph
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"Tiger is up there, way up there," Wallechinsky adds. "He doesn't have the all-time record. But we have hardly seen the last of Tiger Woods."
In this discussion, Wallechinsky sides with Federer, just barely. He points out that tennis draws on a deeper talent pool.
"In the days of Bill Tilden, tennis was a rich man's sport," he says. "Now you have scholarships – guys are competing against a much greater pool. In golf, there is still a limited pool of people. Yes, we see people from all parts of the world, but golf is not a sport we'll see kids playing after school on the streets."
But just how good is men's tennis these days? Sampras and Andre Agassi are retired and the old days of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe are long gone.
Steve Flink, senior correspondent for "Tennis Week," has covered the circuit for 33 years and says he can't remember a period with so little depth at the top of the men's game.
Flink says Federer "is surprisingly talented, no doubt what a great all-around player he is, but we don't see Federer tested enough. I feel like Federer's competition is one of the weakest eras for guys in the top 10 that I've ever seen. I don't want to take anything away from him. It still takes dedication and talent and all the rest to stay on the job and keep piling up majors."
Federer's natural rivals fizzled. After a meteoric rise, Andy Roddick suffered a career slump while Rafael Nadal battled injuries. Flink also says Federer now ranks third best all-time, behind No. 1 Sampras and No. 2 Rod Laver.
"Sampras had a run of eight years straight [of dominance]," Flink says. "He had real longevity. In the short run, though, I don't think we have ever seen anything quite like Federer. He is picking up the Slams at a faster rate than we've seen before."
Flink says Federer deserves the edge. Unlike Woods, he can't have an off day and still win an event. "I know others disagree," he says. "Maybe it's tougher playing the field like Tiger does. But for Roger to win, he has to beat seven opponents over two weeks."
Art Spander, a sports columnist for the Oakland Tribune, has covered the Masters for 40 straight years, attended Wimbledon regularly since 1975, and, just for good measure, has a streak of attending 54 consecutive Rose Bowl games. Spander has seen a lot of sports. He loves this debate, the very flip-side of all that is so rotten with modern sports.
And the argument can't really be won.
But, if Spander is pushed to the wall, he'll give the decision to Woods, who has won consistently for a decade and who has simply steamrolled his would-be rivals in head-to-head play. "With Tiger, he plays 150 people every week in a golf tournament and the courses are all different," Spander says. "In Britain you have links courses and in America you have courses with very tall trees."
Spander has joked and written that there may be only one way to decide this argument.
"What if you give Federer a sand wedge," Spander says, "and what if you give Tiger a racket?"