Who is the greatest male tennis player of all time (“GOAT”)?
I love sport, but these are conversations usually had with friends down the pub. I had no intention on writing a tennis related blog post until I wanted to comment on the US Open final on the BBC website.
So this will be an exception.
Unfortunately I can only reference the commenter as Andrew178.
“Roger is the most gifted player of all time. Rafa is probably the GOAT. Novak has played at the highest level. Federer at his best could never beat Rafa or Novak at their best, and won the French because Nadal was injured. He’s always had a mental weakness when up against someone he can’t wipe the floor with. Still, we are spoiled for choice to be having this discussion. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
It raises an interesting question.
What is greatness?
It is important to define what we mean by ‘greatest of all time’ when discussing who is the GOAT. Unfortunately there is not a simple answer and I suspect it means different things to different people.
A common measure is the number of Slams won, with Federer currently sitting on 19, Nadal on 16 and Djokovic on 12. It would be rude not to mention Pete Sampras (14) or Roy Emerson (12). Rod Laver won 11 Slams, despite being banned from Grand Slam tournaments for a significant period of his career.
The number of slams does seem a reasonable measure, but there wouldn’t be a debate if it was quite that simple. Federer would be the GOAT unless Nadal or Djokovic surpass he slam count.
Djokovic undoubtedly took tennis to a new level in 2015 in terms on dominance, having possibly the greatest season any male player has ever had. Could such a high level of sustained tennis over a calendar year give Djokovic a claim to the the GOAT?
Greatness can be measured by longevity. Steve Redgrave is considered one of Britain’s great Olympians, having won gold medals spanning five Olympics and 16 years.
Federer’s first won Wimbledon in 2003 and is the current Wimbledon Champion in 2017. Nadal isn’t too far behind, winning his first French Open in 2005 and most recently the US Open in 2017. It is difficult to find words to explain just how amazing these achievements are.
And what about head-to-head records? Djokovic leads both Federer (23-22) and Nadal (26-24) in their respective head to heads, with Nadal leading Federer (23-14) in their head to head. Nadal certainly has a mental edge over Federer, although the Australian Open Final and subsequent wins over Nadal this year may have somewhat buckled the trend.
There is natural talent, too. Undoubtedly Roger Federer is the most naturally gifted played to pick up a tennis racket. Whether this should translate to the GOAT is up for debate.
So who is the greatest?
This is of course all down to personal opinion.
It is hard to argue against Nadal being the greatest clay court player of all time and Djokovic has reached levels of tennis most players can only dream of achieving. The defensive tennis and mental strength of both players is beyond outstanding.
But for me it is Roger Federer.
It is his technique, his ability to do with a tennis racket what no other player is able to do.
Federer is the complete tennis player.
However 2017 has proven the debate is clearly not over yet, with Federer and Nadal sharing the slams. I fully expect Djokovic to be back with a bang next year. Perhaps rather than debating who is the GOAT, we should instead enjoy watching three of the greatest players to grace the sport while we still can.