Who wins the 21st century showdown?
WHENEVER the discussion of the greatest sports person of the 20th century is debated, legendary names like Muhammad Ali, Pele, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan and even our own Don Bradman are mentioned.
They were the icons of their chosen sport. The best ever.
As we approach the completion of the second decade of the 21st century the baton has now been passed on to the next generation of superstars.
Over the past 20 years a host of sporting luminaries can lay claim to being the greatest sports person we've seen since the beginning of the millennium.
What are the prerequisites needed in the make-up of an extraordinarily gifted athlete?
Superb athleticism is essential, to be able to constantly perform in a clutch moment and importantly having the intestinal fortitude to win when defeat appears imminent.
Every name listed in this countdown has these qualities.
The past 20 years has witnessed a golden era of tennis legends, and remarkably
all four in our list have been in action at the French Open.
The 15 listed here hold records that are unlikely to ever be surpassed. Their greatness is exemplified by the esteemed names I excluded - Tim Duncan, Kelly Slater, Simone Biles, Lewis Hamilton, Xavi, Sachin Tendulkar and Floyd Mayweather just to name a few.
Let the debate begin.
15. VALENTINO ROSSI
The mercurial Italian took the final spot in the countdown in a photo finish from Mayweather. The only rider in history to have won the world championship in four different classes, 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and the MotoGP, winning a total of nine world titles. One of the most talented motorbike rider of all time, at the age of 40 he is still a force to be reckoned with.
14. PEYTON MANNING
His list of achievements are endless. Let's just say the word "most" is often used in his bio. A five-time NFL MVP in what is a once in a lifetime career in American football. He still remains the only quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams - first with Indianapolis in 2007 and again with Denver in 2016 in the final game of his career.
13. KOBE BRYANT
A decorated 20-year NBA career at the Lakers. A two-time Olympic gold medallist and an 18-time All Star. With 33,643 points he's ranked third on the all time points list. His offensive record is remarkable but the fact that he is one of the greatest defenders since 2000 illustrates another side of greatness.
12. CRISTIANO RONALDO
This Portuguese phenomenon took the EPL by storm as a 18-year-old for Manchester United before Real Madrid beckoned and so did the frequency of the ball finishing at the back of a net. In terms of goal scoring, he is Europe's finest and is still hammering them home for Juventus.
11. MICHAEL SCHUMACHER
Forget just this century, he is the greatest Formula One driver of all time. From 2000 to 2004 he won five consecutive championships and has seven in total. In 2002 he finished on the podium in every race. Overall he won seven world championships and 91 Formula One races, a record that still stands today.
10. RAFAEL NADAL
He is unquestionably the greatest clay court player in history with daylight second. By the age of 24 he had won every grand slam tournament, proving his adaptability on all surfaces. In all Rafa has won 80 career tournaments which puts him at number four since the open era. Can he win a mind-blowing 12th French Open? In my opinion his initials should already be inscribed on the trophy.
9. TOM BRADY
Winner of six Super Bowls, he is the ultimate NFL quarterback.. What is even more remarkable is that his sixth title came at the age of 40. Yes, he boasts record after record, but Brady does it when it counts the most, during the playoffs where he boasts four Super Bowl MVPs. His mental toughness combined with a strong work ethic has been the key in his longevity.
8. LIONEL MESSI
He is the greatest footballer this century. On the big stage there has been none better, whether it's the World Cup or Champions League. Messi is the main reason Barcelona have been such a juggernaut of European football, winning 34 trophies. He has scored nearly 700 career goals.
The most dominant basketball player since Michael Jordan. A 15-time All Star and three-time NBA champion, there is an argument to suggest James is the greatest allround player of all time. He is the only person in the NBA history with 30,000 points. 8000 assists and 8000 rebounds. LeBron is the highest scoring NBA player in playoff history. That is why there is no more respected and intimidating competitor than James.
6. NOVAK DJOKOVIC
When the greats of tennis get mentioned, his name gets overlooked and it shouldn't, as there can be no denying his outstanding numbers. A 15-time grand slam champion who has won the most prizemoney in the history of tennis. No one has won more Masters titles than the Djoker. At one point, he held all four grand slam trophies. In an era of so many champions he has held the number one ranking for 253 weeks. The Serbian is six years younger than Federer so the records will continue to fall.
5. USAIN BOLT
The greatest showman and the fastest man in Olympic history. His domination of athletics began at the 2008 Beijing games and continued until the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The Jamaican was unbeatable in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, winning eight Olympic gold medals. He was also an 11-time world champion whose world records in the 100m (9.58sec) and 200m (19.19sec) have stood for a decade and likely to stand for another.. It's a shame his athletic prowess didn't reflect his football ability.
4. SERENA WILLIAMS
The greatest female sports woman this century and possibly of all time. The winner of 23 grand slam singles tournaments, it's Serena's longevity that makes her so special. In 2017 she became the oldest women to win a grand slam singles title in the Open era at the age of 35. This year will mark Serena's 25th year on the WTA tour. Make no mistake, Serena is driven by Margaret Court's grand slam singles tally of 24. I think she will set a new mark.
3. MICHAEL PHELPS
It's safe to say that Don Bradman's Test average of 99.94 will never be surpassed, and the same can be said about Phelps' 23 Olympic gold medals, considering the next best is nine. There are not enough superlatives to describes his feats in the pool. His strength is that he was able to dominate in more than just one stroke. He was the greatest medley swimmer of all time. How about this for a sobering statistic: overall Phelps won more gold medals than 174 nations that competed at the Olympic Games. He is the greatest Olympian that ever lived.
2. TIGER WOODS
What he was able to achieve at the age of 43 in winning the Masters will remain in folklore. Arguably the greatest comeback in sporting history. He announced himself on the golfing stage by winning the 1997 US Masters at the age of 21 by a record 12 strokes. No one has dominated a sport like Tiger did between 2000-2007 when he won an astonishing 11 majors. His compatriots even said it was like they were playing for the runners-up cheque. His career appeared over just last year where at one point his ranking dropped to 1199th in the world. Woods is now a realistic chance of catching Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. He needs just three more. I certainly wont be foolish enough to write him off... again.
1. ROGER FEDERER
Put aside his record of 20 grand slam singles titles, his 101 tournament victories and the fact that he was the world's number one tennis player for almost five consecutive years, what separates him from everyone else is his ability to still dominant a sport 20 years after he debuted. Federer has spent just on 17 years ranked in the top five of tennis. At the age of 37 he reclaimed the world number one ranking. He was approaching 36 when he won two grand slams in the same year. There has been none better than the Swiss maestro. I just couldn't go past the Fed Express as the greatest sports person we've seen this century.