(Original post by TopHat)
See, this is the way I see it: in 2006, Federer was the best player. Absolutely no doubts at all. However, the Federer of 2006, when pitted against other players from other times, is not the best player. I agree. Federer, in 2006, absolutely beat what was put in front of him. Sadly, what was put in front of him was a meagre fair. It did indeed take far too long for people to rise the bar; although they have now. But let me put things into context for you. In 2006, Nadal was no.2. I (hope) know we can all agree that Nadal now plays much better than Nadal then. Even though he lost, the last few sets of the Australian Open final were a tennis masterpiece. So, the no.2 in 2012 is much better than the no.2 in 2006. Our current no.3 is Federer himself. I think we can all agree that 2012's Federer is better than 2006's Davydenko. 2012's Federer is probably actually still better than 2006's Nadal. So, in our current no.3 player is again better than 2006's no.2 player. Now look at our no.4 player. This might be more controversial, I accept, but I would put money on 2012 Murray against 2006 Nadal, every time (every time that wasn't on a clay court, that is). So our no.4 player is again better than 2006's no.2 player. I could keep going on, but it would be quite dull. What I think should be a pretty uncontroversial point is that 2006's field was weaker than 2012's. I have challenged people numerous times to explain why Davydenko and Ljubicic were so good; nobody has responded.
However, this does not make Federer bad. I am not stupid, I can see Federer is very good indeed. What I would argue, however, is that 2006 and 2007 does not represent the peak of Federer's play. People claim that apparently the Federer of 2006 never made unenforced errors. Well, go look at his defeat of Djokovic in 3 sets at Rome. He made 37 unenforced errors over 3 sets. That's more unenforced errors than he made over a far better Djokovic in 4 sets in this years Wimbledon. People are remembering Federer's high points, and not his lows. Their memories are rather rose-tinted and are glossing over the fact that Federer still made unenforced errors, but it didn't matter particularly because nobody else, at the time, was of a significant enough calibre to use them. I would say that Federer actually continued improving after 2007, but at a much slower rate - what was happening is that his technical skill has continued to increase slowly, but has been offset by decreasing athleticism. I would strongly hold that 2012 Federer is not significantly worse than 2006 Federer. The problem is that these slow improvements have seen Djokovic and Nadal making huge strides at the same time. I think 2011 Djokovic would beat 2006 Federer, and I think 2011 Nadal would beat 2006 Federer. I mean, Pat Cash said that 2012 Federer is actually the best yet. This is not some BBC commentator's ramblings, Pat Cash has been on the tour and knows exactly what he is talking about. Henman, a close friend of Federer, says exactly the same - he is as good as he has ever been, if not better.
Now, this doesn't make Federer bad; it makes him very good indeed. His technical expertise is enough to make him number 1, should he win tomorrow (which in all honesty I expect him to). However, it does make me question this: if Federer, Djokovic and Nadal had all been of the exact same age and turned professional at the exact same time, what would the scoreboard look like now? I cannot say in all confidence that Federer would be unquestionably ahead. For me, that's enough to say that I cannot be certain he is the greatest player, merely an incredibly good one and a tremendously consistent one.