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 WFANWFAN (660 AM), also known as “Sports Radio 66 and 101 FM” or “The FAN” 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.”
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.”