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Stephen L. Carter

Federer and Williams Were the Best Ever. Or Maybe Not.

The greatness that counts is the greatness we’ve seen. And what these two tennis players have in common – apart from all the major titles – is that their achievements are in recent memory. 

The best ever?  

The best ever?  

Photographer: Tony Ashby/AFP via Getty Images

With this week’s retirement of Roger Federer coming hard on the heels of last week’s news that Serena Williams had played her final match, encomia have rung out from every corner lamenting the loss of the two greatest tennis players in history.

But were they? In every sport, we constantly hear claims that this one or that one is the greatest who’s ever played the game. But despite efforts over the years to compare athletes across generations, we never know for sure. The fact that we can argue endlessly is part of what makes professional sports appealing -- and should also teach us humility in other arenas, where the outcome of argument matters more.