Wayne Gretzky, the leading scorer in NHL history, believes that not only is Roger Federer the greatest player of all time, but that he is perhaps one of the Top 3 athletes in history, period.

“He deserves to be up there with guys like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Pele,” Gretzky said in an interview with Sportsnet in Montreal. “He’s a special man. He’s got charisma. He’s got style. He’s got class. He’s a winner. He loves this sport. He’s got a passion for the game. You know, he’s a little bit like Gordie Howe was. He’s just a special man.”

Gretzky pointed out that one of the great things about sports is that as soon as people think they’ve found the all-time best in a given sport, there is always a chance that someone else will come along to challenge them.

“You go back to the McEnroe days and obviously Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg and people thought, ‘Well, are we ever going to get a guy as good as that guy?’” Gretzky said. “All of a sudden this guy [Federer] comes along and might be as good as all those guys combined.”

The Canadian hockey legend has long been a tennis fan, even holding tennis charity events as far back as 35 years ago. But this week, he was in town to support Canadian hopefuls including 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who he watched up play on Tuesday.

Shapovalov put on an epic show for “The Great One,” saving four match points to escape a tense second set before beating Rogerio Dutra Silva, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4, even earning Gretzky’s applause.

Shapovalov then upset Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday, while Federer eased past Peter Polansky.

“The great athletes want to be at center stage. They want to play out here and be under that microscope," Gretzky said. "I think he has ice in his veins and I think he’s one of those guys who’s going to love the pressure and take on that responsibility.”

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