Updated: Apr 24, 2020
The G.O.A.T (Greatest of all time) is a debate that is hotly contested. I have always found it difficult to compare players from different generations, not just in tennis but in any sport.
Roger Federer is considered the greatest player tennis fans have ever witnessed, with his 20 grand slam titles (the most out of any other tennis player). Chasing him down are Rafael Nadal (18) and Novak Djokovic (16).
Federer played in an easier era:
In the same year (2005) that Rafael Nadal won his first French Open and gram slam title, Roger Federer was sitting on 6 grand slams. I don’t think anyone can argue that the current era is the strongest tennis has ever seen, with no active players under 30 years old having a grand slam title to their name. This is due to the absolute dominance of the ‘big four’ the last 15 years, only 3 active players have been able to break through and win a grand slam (Del Potro, Wawrinka and Cilic). Throughout Nadal’s career, every grand slam title he has won, Federer has been playing. Djokovic was dealt an even worse hand having to handle both Federer/Nadal to win his grand slam titles. When Federer started to break through in the early 20th century, his biggest rivals (Agassi and Sampras) were both 30+ years old and soon retiring. I believe Roger had fortunate timing in the early part of his career and got a head start on grand slam titles over his current rivals due to weaker competition.
Argument for Nadal being the GOAT:
Rafael Nadal sits on 18 grand slams and potentially will win his 19th this weekend at the US Open. I think there is a very strong argument for Rafa to be considered the GOAT, especially if you take into account all the grand slam tournaments he has missed due to injuries. Since he won his first grand slam title, he has won 18 titles and out of the 53 he entered (34% chance of winning the grand slam). Rafa has missed 8 grand slams due to injury and if we use his win % ratio it could be said that he would have won 2 more slams (if fit). Winning two slams out of the 8 is 25% win ratio, which would then move up Rafa to 20 slams, the same as Federer. It’s also important to note that Nadal has the most ATP Masters 1000 titles than any other player, with 35 (Roger has 28).
Argument for Djokovic being the GOAT:
Since Djokovic’s dominating 2011 season, he has hands down been the most successful tennis player in the last 8 years. Djokovic sits on 16 slams (four less than Federer), but has time on his side with his younger age. Djokovic has a winning h2h against both Roger and Rafa, as well as the highest win percentage against top 10 opponents (67.% as at Aug 2018). You could argue Novak has had the toughest rivals to compete against to achieve his 16 Grand slams and 33 Masters 1000 titles (Roger 28).
Djokovic is known for his incredible baseline game and defensive shot making. I would consider him the best “all court player” we have ever seen, being so successful on every surface he plays on. A statistic to highlight this is Djokovic earning the “Career Golden Masters”, being the only player ever to win all nine ATP1000 titles. He has also beaten Federer in three Wimbledon finals and is unbeaten while being on Roger’s “favoured” surface.
Ending the G.O.A.T Debate:
I personally believe the GOAT debate should not continue until all three players have retired. I feel there could be a bias towards Federer due to his impeccable technique and kind nature. If you look at the stats, all three players are very even and no one leads the way yet. Djokovic and Nadal have more years ahead in their career than Roger has and I would not be surprised if they both passed his 20 grand slams.
Other Notable Statistics:
-Since 2009, Djokovic has won over double the amount of Masters 1000 titles than Federer has (ND: 29, RF: 14).
-In their last 30 meetings, Djokovic has won 22 against Federer (73.3% win rate).
-Roger also has a losing h2h record against Rafa, losing 24 of their 40 encounters.