I was much too young to have had any chance of attending the era defining ‘Rumble in the jungle’, but have very clearly memories of watching it on television. Aged just 12, too young to have begun to contemplate with any seriousness the reservations about boxing as a sport which afflict my view of it now, I was beguiled by the sheer charisma of the man who dubbed himself, with considerable justification, ‘The Greatest’.

Ali would top countless end of Millennium polls and lists of sporting greats, but we move on and in this 21st century there are already some people who have separated themselves from the pack as truly exceptional. In golf there was a spell when Tiger Woods dominated as no-one, not even Jack Nicklaus in his pomp, has done before; no sprinter has ever separated himself from the field as Usain Bolt has repeatedly done this past decade; and Tom Brady’s feat in hauling the New England Patriots back from 28-3 behind in the Superbowl with little more than a quarter of the game remaining, meanwhile not only ended the artificial debate as to whether he or contemporary Peyton Manning was the superior player, but established him statistically as well as strategically peerless within his sport.

In each case, however, there are caveats.

Woods’ approach has initiated an increased athleticism to golf, but it remains a sport in which, walking between shots which require only moderate amounts of physical effort in themselves, it is possible to be competitive without being in supreme physical condition. Bolt is, by contrast, a phenomenal physical specimen and clearly there is work that has to be done to maximise the natural gifts required to run as he does, but it seems fair to say that his is a relatively one-dimensional discipline, not even requiring the strategic elements that are a factor in middle and long distance running, let alone the ball control required while travelling at speed by football or rugby wingers, or American Football’s running backs and wide receivers. That takes us to Brady and for all that the remarkable thing about the way his capacity to implement a gameplan, has seen players who have been deemed not good enough, either physically or temperamentally, to play elsewhere, thrive when given specific roles that fit the requirements of the New England Patriots. As he would be first to acknowledge, however, that is largely down to the vision of their head coach Bill Belichick.

All of which is why it felt particularly special to be inside Wimbledon’s Centre Court last Sunday as Roger Federer became the first man to contest 11 Grand Slam finals at the same event and, more importantly, separated himself from his own boyhood hero Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, as the first man to win his sport’s most coveted prize for an eighth time. It could be argued that since Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles to Federer’s 19, he is not even the outstanding tennis player of the era. However that is surely countered by the relative quality of the men’s and women’s games during their contemporaneous careers with Federer having achieved what he has at a time when the greatest clay court player has dominated the French Open, while I have long believed that he and Rafael Nadal are, along with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, two of a group of four players who, individually, would have monopolised Grand Slam tennis in any previous era.

In that context last Sunday might better be compared to the moment which set Ali apart statistically without being a particularly epic encounter in its own right, when he beat Leon Spinks to become the only man to win the World Heavyweight title for a third time, whereas his astonishing, odds-defying victory at the Australian Open, particularly because it culminated in beating old Nemesis Nadal in the final, was more comparable to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’

Either way, though, there was a realisation of being in the presence of greatness and of witnessing sporting history. For the completeness of his athleticism, skill set, playing style, longevity and temperament, Roger Federer is the outstanding sportsman of the 21st century so far and it is hard to imagine anyone challenging that in the foreseeable future.