Swiss tennis player Roger Federer, age 36, won his 20th major championship this weekend at the Australian Open. (There are four majors per year in both tennis and golf.) This puts him four out ahead of Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who is 31, and still piling up majors, and six ahead of the retired American Pete Sampras.
The current open system of tennis majors only extends back to 1968. Prior, the majors were only open to amateur, so it’s unclear how many earlier professionals would have won. The most intriguing example is Australian Rod Laver who all four grand slam titles as an amateur in 1962, then turned pro and couldn’t play in any majors for five years until 1968 when they allowed pros and he immediately won all four grand slam events. If you assume during Laver’s five years away from the majors that he would have won, say, two of the four each year, that would give him 10 more or 21 compared to Federer’s 20. But that’s just a crude estimate. Federer has actually won 20.
Number 20 also ties Federer with golfer Jack Nicklaus’s contention that, while he has won 18 major professional championships, he also deserves credit for his two U.S. Amateur championships he won before turning professional in 1962. In Jack’s view, his famous 1986 Master’s championship at age 46 was #20 for him, not #18. Using Jack’s count, he became the greatest golfer of all time 1973 when he surpassed 1920s amateur Bobby Jones’ 13, including the US Amateur and the British Amateur.
Tiger Woods has won 14 pro majors, for behind Jack, but giving him credit for his 3 US Amateurs, he has 17. In La Jolla on Sunday, at Torrey Pines where Tiger won his last major at the 2008 US Open on a bad knee, Tiger, now 42, tied for 23rd out of about 144 entrants. That’s not great, but considering that not long ago he seemed likely to join Prince and Tom Petty in the pain pill hereafter, that’s a big improvement.
I blogged on iSteve almost exactly ten years ago:
Tiger Woods and Roger Federer
STEVE SAILER • JANUARY 31, 2008 • 600 WORDS • 30 COMMENTS
Tiger Woods has always focused on breaking his idol Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. He currently has 13. By this age, Nicklaus had 9, so that would put Woods on pace for 26. …
Yet, Woods has a worthy contemporary competitor — not on the golf course, but on the tennis court. Swissman Roger Federer, who won’t turn 27 until August, has won 12 Grand Slam titles. If he stays hot, he could overtake Woods, at least for a few years.
There are four Grand Slam tournaments each year — Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US — so they are a fair comparison to golf’s four major championships….
So, if Federer maintains the same pace as Sampras, he’ll win about 17 Grand Slam titles.
That Nicklaus holds the golf record with 18 while Sampras holds the tennis record with only 14 mostly shows how much better Nicklaus was than all other golfers before Tiger, whereas it’s not at all clear who was the best tennis player before Federer. The top ten tennis players in terms of major championship victories have won 102, while the top 10 golfers have won 96, so the two sports are directly comparable.