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Comment: Roger Federer the greatest-ever athlete across all sports after Wimbledon triumph

ABC Grandstand logoABC Grandstand 17/07/2017 James Maasdorp

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Roger Federer's stunning Wimbledon win has the tennis world purring, but his accomplishments on the court now demand ever-increasing respect across sports.

His 19th grand slam title, coming after a difficult period where Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray took it in turns to dominate the men's circuit, has shown age is no barrier to achievement.

Famed as well for his gentlemanly conduct, Federer's heady mix of tennis godhood and insane popularity mean he has reached an unprecedented level of achievement across any sport.

Roger Federer celebrates victory with the Wimbledon trophy. © Julian Finney/Getty Images Roger Federer celebrates victory with the Wimbledon trophy. Crucially, certain athletes' achievements stretch across the divide of sport, in the world of philanthropy, politics and social change, gilding what they accomplished in the playing arena with superhuman qualities.

It is this mix that sees Federer assume the mantle of sport's greatest-ever athlete, ahead of some incredible hall-of-famers.

Below is our top 10 of the all-time greatest athletes, across all sports and the gender divide.

10. Usain Bolt

The Jamaican sprint sensation needs little introduction, with Usain Bolt the undisputed king of world athletics — though the throne will soon be vacated after the world athletics championships in London.

Bolt mixed slick, joyous showmanship with incredible speed to break a string of world records, becoming the face of the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

Usain Bolt cheekily glimpses across during the 100m semi-final at the Rio 2016 Olympics. © Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach Usain Bolt cheekily glimpses across during the 100m semi-final at the Rio 2016 Olympics. He briefly held the incredible 'triple triple' achievement — winning and retaining the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay Olympic gold medals — before losing his 2008 relay gold after teammate Nesta Carter failed a drug test.

But that minor blip, certainly not of his own doing, is but a tiny speck on a CV of stellar achievement. His sprint to win the 100m gold medal in Beijing will live forever in the memory, showboating his way across the finish line with arms outstretched, and still breaking the world record metres in front of the competition.

9. Michael Jordan

Probably the greatest clutch player in any team sport, Michael Jordan was your man when the chips were down and somebody needed to stand up and make it count.

A six-time NBA champion and NBA finals MVP, five-time most valuable player and a two-time Olympic gold medallist to boot, Michael Jordan remains one of the most famous faces in world sport long after his (third) retirement from basketball in 2003.

Once described by Larry Bird as "God disguised as Michael Jordan", Jordan was an incredibly rounded player, famed for his scoring and highlight-reel dunks but also one of the league's best in defence.

Michael Jordan remains one of the most recognisable athletes in world sport. © Reuters/Gary Hershorn Michael Jordan remains one of the most recognisable athletes in world sport. He retired three times from basketball, but his 1995 return to the NBA not only revived the stalling Chicago Bulls, but saw an incredible TV ratings spike in the NBA across the United States.

His second stint with the Bulls saw Chicago replicate the 1991-1993 three-peat (which Jordan was a central part of), winning the 1996, 1997 and 1998 NBA championships.

A financial juggernaut off the court, Forbes magazine ranked Jordan as the world's 20th-most powerful celebrity in 2010, and was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2016.

And of course, His Airness also gave the world Space Jam.

8. Mia Hamm

Perhaps the greatest female football player of all time, Mia Hamm broke new ground for the woman's game with her record-breaking exploits for the United States, leaving a lasting impression on the sport in America.

Women's football in the United States enjoys the rare achievement of being just as popular as the men's game in that country, if not more so, with Hamm at the centre of that success.

Mia Hamm played a huge role in propelling the USA to the top of women's football. © Reuters/Gary Hershorn Mia Hamm played a huge role in propelling the USA to the top of women's football. She won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals in her time in American colours, which included the inaugural 1991 Women's World Cup, in a career that saw her blaze a trail for the sport both at home and internationally.

Hamm also held the record for most international goals by any player, male or female, at 108 strikes, before her record was broken by compatriot Abby Wambach in 2013.

7. Michael Phelps

For pure sporting achievement, Michael Phelps takes some beating. The most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals and holder of most golds with 23, Phelps's physique was tailor-made for swimming glory.

An exaggerated triangular upper body, disproportionately long arms and large, flipper-like feet made Phelps an incredibly intimidating presence on the diving blocks, as he chewed up metres in seconds to build big leads.

When Michael Phelps stepped up at the Olympics, the race seemed almost like a foregone conclusion. © Reuters/Jorge Silva When Michael Phelps stepped up at the Olympics, the race seemed almost like a foregone conclusion. Phelps's greatness was signified early on when he qualified for the USA team in 2000 aged just 15, finishing fifth in the 200m butterfly final. His Olympic dynasty stretched from 2000 to 2016, with 2004 sparking four gold-laden Summer Games campaigns, across a multitude of disciplines. Butterfly, backstroke and freestyle were all perfected by Phelps, and he was a tireless machine in the individual medley. Wins in the team relays simply inflated his personal medal count and helped him claim a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

A giant of the pool who voluntarily submitted more doping tests than were required (passing all of them), his career was only blighted by a number of drink-driving offences, while his main sponsor pulled out in 2009 when a photo emerged of him smoking a bong.

6. Serena Williams

Twenty-three singles titles. Fourteen more in doubles. Serena Williams was born to do one thing, and that was rack up the tennis trophies.

At first considered the lesser light to her sister Venus, Serena has swept aside the competition across the breadth of her career, winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open seven times, along with six US Open titles and three wins at the French Open.

But such has been her incredible successes on the WTA tour that pundits have often speculated over how well she'd fare on the men's tour. Unfortunately, due to some old-fashioned views among many of the punditocracy, including John McEnroe, the comparison is mostly unfavourable.

Serena Williams has dominated women's tennis for more than a decade. © AAP Image/Made Nagi Serena Williams has dominated women's tennis for more than a decade. As a result, Williams has stood up countless times against sexism in tennis, fighting for more recognition of female athletes' achievements alongside men's.

"People call me one of the 'world's greatest female athletes.' Do they say LeBron [James] is one of the world's best male athletes? Is Tiger [Woods]? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female," she wrote in Porter magazine.

Her recent announcement that she was expecting a baby sent social media into overdrive, with many noting she would have won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. Certainly something not even Roger Federer could boast.

5. Ayrton Senna

For many who watched three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna in the flesh, there was none better. A peerless driver who died in his pomp, Senna is widely regarded as the greatest driver in F1 history.

Winning the drivers' championship in 1988, 1990 and 1991, his rivalry with Alain Prost was legendary, and his racing abilities in the wet were practically unmatched.

That career came to an end in tragic circumstances, when Senna's steering failed him in San Marino, his car crashing into a wall and killing the star driver in 1994. His death shook the sporting world, with Brazil's government declaring three days of national mourning, and F1 having to clean up the pieces from a terrible race that also claimed the life of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger.

Ayrton Senna's death stunned the motorsport world and still influences Formula One's decisions on driver safety. © Reuters Ayrton Senna's death stunned the motorsport world and still influences Formula One's decisions on driver safety. In football-mad Brazil, Senna was God. His wins on the track were one thing, but his concern for the country's poor made him a man of the people. He created what eventually became known as the Instituto Ayrton Senna, dedicated to helping Brazilian children, while it was later discovered after his death he had quietly donated millions to help the poor.

His death continues to influence the world of F1, with constant safety improvements being brought in every season more than 20 years after that fateful day in San Marino.

4. Pele

In a sport with so many famous faces from around the world, perhaps it is Pele's who stands as the most recognisable.

The creative force behind Brazil's surge to become the biggest team in international football, Pele was a great from a very young age, winning the World Cup with Brazil in 1958 at the age of just 17. The youngest player at the tournament, he scored a hat-trick against France in the semi-final, before scoring two in the 5-2 win over Sweden in the decider.

World football's media was in unison proclaiming Pele as the revelation of the 1958 tournament. He would miss the majority of his country's victorious 1962 campaign through injury, before he was fouled persistently in the 1966 competition as Brazil made an early exit.

Pele was instrumental in Brazil's 1958 World Cup win at the tender age of 17. © Reuters Pele was instrumental in Brazil's 1958 World Cup win at the tender age of 17. But Pele would return with a vengeance in 1970, conducting the fearsome quartet of Jairzinho, Gerson, Rivelino and Tostao as Brazil romped to a third world title.

Pele scored 77 times for Brazil, while netting 619 goals for club team Santos before scoring 31 times in a brief, ground-breaking stint at New York Cosmos.

The striker became Brazil's minister for sport in 1995 where he would fight against corruption in domestic football. He was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994, and he has also been a champion of environmental causes.

3. Martina Navratilova

Dubbed one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Martina Navratilova brought incredible athleticism to women's tennis, while also making headway for gay rights.

Her career record is phenomenal: 1,442 singles wins, and just 219 losses, at a win rate a touch under 87 per cent. Three Australian Open wins, two French Opens and four US Opens were just the platform on which to mount the crown-jewel achievement of her career, winning Wimbledon a whopping nine times.

Martina Navratilova was a foot soldier for gay rights as well as an all-time great tennis player. © AP/Robert Dear Martina Navratilova was a foot soldier for gay rights as well as an all-time great tennis player. Long-time rival Chris Evert credited Navratilova with revolutionising the women's game, saying her "superb athleticism and aggressiveness" and training techniques took the sport up a level, as her serve-and-volley game dominated the circuit.

Navratilova made waves for many homosexual athletes when she first came out as 'bisexual' in 1981, before eventually confirming she was in fact lesbian. As well as being a major figure in the fight for gay rights, she has also been involved in animal rights groups and charities for under-privileged children.

2. Muhammad Ali

The arguments over who was boxing's greatest fighter will rage forever. Boxing experts can be divided over Muhammad Ali's legacy. But as an athlete, and an influencer on a global level, he was unsurpassed.

Easily one of boxing's greatest fighters, Ali excelled in one of the greatest eras of heavyweight boxing. Famed for his incredible skills in the ring and spectacular turn of phrase, Ali's name would be immortalised in his brave stand against the Vietnam War, conscription and racial inequality.

Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, was the first boxer to win the world heavyweight title three times, and mixed incredible trash talking en route to becoming the most entertaining fighter the sport ever produced.

Muhammad Ali (R) fights Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium in 1976. © Reuters/Action Images Muhammad Ali (R) fights Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium in 1976. An Olympic gold medallist in 1960, Ali would go on to win 56 of his 61 fights, including historic fights against Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston.

Ali changed his name from Clay when he converted to Islam, culminating in him refusing his draft order during the Vietnam War, which saw him banned from boxing for three years.

Ali died in 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

1. Roger Federer

Some will say the likes of Serena Williams are often overlooked in the debate over 'greatest ever tennis player'. Certainly, the American has won more major titles across singles and doubles than Roger Federer, who has won no grand slam doubles events.

But Federer's style of play, his rise to the top in one of the golden eras of men's singles tennis, his exemplary conduct and now his successful battle against age to reclaim his throne has seen him reach a rare air.

A technically beautiful player that has been a massive drawcard since he turned professional, Federer has finally put his lean patch between 2012 and 2016 to bed, which saw age and mental gremlins seemingly take over as Djokovic and Murray assumed the world number one mantle.

Roger Federer's legacy across all sports is now firmly ensconced. © AP/Daniel Leal-Olivas Roger Federer's legacy across all sports is now firmly ensconced. Now holding the record for most title wins by a male player at Wimbledon (his eighth title coming without dropping a set), Federer's legacy is ensconced, having dominated tennis's premier grand slam event.

His philanthropic work, promoting education and sports in Africa, as well as donating to families affected by the 2011 Queensland floods, underlines another reason why he is so immensely popular world wide.

But what ultimately rockets him up to the 'greatest athlete of all time' moniker is his latest victory. Conquering the age demon, and thanks in part to Djokovic and Murray's current stalling, he has resumed his old role as unarguably the best male player in the word at present.

To do that at 35, when a few years ago we all thought he was pretty much toast, shows the real measure of the man.

The unlucky ones to miss out

Don Bradman: The greatest cricketer to play the game, Don Bradman's legacy is set in stone in Australia and the Test-playing world. But beyond that, his influence wanes, and with the ongoing arguments within cricket history circles, including caveats about how the number of international teams he played against, how each player can only be measured against their current generation, The Don's legacy will stay ensconced in cricket's empire, but sadly no further.

Nadia Comaneci: The first gymnast to score an Olympic perfect 10, Romania's Nadia Comaneci won five gold medals (the first three while she was just 14 years old) and is widely credited with popularising gymnastics around the world. An honorary consul general of Romania to the United States, she personally funded the construction of the Nadia Comaneci Children's Clinic which provides low-cost medical and social support to Romanian children.

Jesse Owens: The king of athletics before the breakout of World War II, Jesse Owens personally tore Adolf Hitler's ideology of the supremacy of the Aryan race to shreds, winning gold in the 100m and 200m sprints, 4x100m relay as well as the long jump at the 1936 Games in Berlin. His Olympic career was cut short by the war, but his legacy was eternal.

Jack Nicklaus: 'The Golden Bear' is widely considered the greatest golfer of all, winning 18 majors over a 25-year career. He was incredibly selective about where he played, often focusing on the majors alongside only a select few PGA events, yet still churned out 73 PGA Tour wins.

Diego Maradona: The man who was always thrust up alongside Pele in one of football's longest-running arguments, Maradona was Argentina's wizardly wonder in their 1986 FIFA World Cup win. Famed for his 'Hand of God' hand-ball goal against England, he also scored what was later voted by FIFA as the greatest goal in World Cup history in the same match, bamboozling five English players in a mazy run up half the field. Cocaine and weight problems bedevilled his career later on, before he took a turn at management, coaching his home country in the 2010 World Cup.

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