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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday December 14, 2016

John McEnroe

"Federer overall, consistency-wise, is the best player ever,” says John McEnroe.

Photo credit: Zimbio

Rod Laver is John McEnroe’s tennis idol.

Roger Federer is McEnroe’s choice as tennis GOAT.

Watch: Top 5 Men's Disappointments Of 2016

Four decades of playing and commentating on the sport compel McEnroe to one conclusion in the great debate.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion says 17-time Grand Slam king Federer is the Greatest Of All Time—except when facing archrival Rafael Nadal.

“Federer overall, consistency-wise, is the best player ever,” McEnroe told WFAN host Marc Malusis in a radio interview on Tuesday in New York City. “If you put Nadal, who is to me, the other guy. Those two if they played one-on-one and both guys were playing their best, I would say Nadal matches up better with Federer.

“Overall, I think Federer’s been more consistent. Nadal’s been more injury-prone.”

The Hall of Famer ranks Federer, Nadal, Laver, Pete Sampras and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic as the top male champions in tennis history.

“Sampras would be the best fast-court player,” McEnroe told WFAN. “Djokovic, to me, has moved up to number five all time. Rod Laver, who is my idol, is still there.”

While praising Federer and Nadal as tennis’ ultimate champions, McEnroe believes advancing age and escalating injuries means their days as elite players are numbered.

The man who held the world No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles believes both Roger and Rafa “are at the end” and asserts their departures, which he sees coming in a couple of years, will create a void in the sport.

“There’s a void that’s about to occur because of what’s happened with (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal,” McEnroe told Malusis. “I mean, they’re at the end, right? You can’t imagine them going on more than a year or two. (Novak) Djokovic (and Andy) Murray are the two best, but they’re not getting younger. I know 29 sounds young, but they’re going to have another couple years, you anticipate.

“So there’s these young guys. There are actually some young Americans that potentially could for sure get in the top 10. Whether they can be Grand Slam champions, that’s the issue I wonder with right now.”

The New York native who threw out the first pitch at a New York Mets game earlier this season, will join Andy Roddick, Jim Courier and James Blake playing the PowerShares QQQ Cup at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on January 7th. The 2003 US Open champion Roddick, who called it "borderline idiotic" for him to pick anyone other than Federer as the best player he faced, remains the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title. 

World No. 19 John Isner is the top-ranked American man. McEnroe, who cites high cost of training, America's inability to attract its top athletes to tennis and apathy as primary challenges to producing U.S. champions, argues the lack of a Top 10 American presence hurts the sport.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the best tennis player in the world was from New York?” McEnroe said. “The sport is being hurt, the last 10 years, by the fact there really hasn’t been a top American player. Roddick was the last guy that won something. He won the Open in 2003. Since then 13 years and counting. None.

“So we need to sort of do something about that otherwise it becomes this… I don’t want to say cult, but it’s big in Europe. And you see a lot of European basketball players are having success here. And so athletically, the best athletes in other counties in western Europe, they go to tennis a lot sooner. It’s more available and it’s got more of a history than it does here.”

The former world No. 1 calls recent top-ranked players the best pure athletes tennis has produced and asserts that advances in string and racquet technology combined with the homogenization of court speed makes athleticism an even bigger asset in today's tennis.

“Athletically, bottom line is the way the game has changed because of technology and the speed of the game,” McEnroe said. “In the old days, a tennis player if he knew the game of tennis, the strategies, the subtleties, the nuances of the game, he could beat an athlete.

“It’s a little like the NBA… The athlete is beating the tennis player now. So the great, great guys like Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray they’re both. We’ve got to find the guy that’s both.”

The former U.S. Davis Cup captain points to a pair of young Americans—19-year-old Taylor Fritz, the youngest man in the Top 100 and 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe—as potential Top 10 players.

“We have some possibilities,” McEnroe said. “Frances Tiafoe, great athlete, he could be a Top 10 player. Taylor Fritz, good player. Athletically, I don’t see it at that (top) level.”

McEnroe, who served as a coaching consultant to Milos Raonic during grass-court season, has been mentioned as a potential consultant to fellow Nike endorser Nick Kyrgios though the enigmatic Aussie has said he has no immediate plans to hire a full-time coach. McEnroe says Kyrgios possesses the physical ability of a world No. 1 and the volatile mentality of a world No. 100.

“Talents like Nick Kyrgios, he could be number one in the world,” McEnroe said. “But mentally he’s like one hundred in the world. So if you’re one in the world ability wise and one hundred in the world mentally, that makes you thirteen in the world, which is what he is right now.”


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