1. Roger Federer
• Grandslams:- 20 (1st in All-Time list)
• ATP Masters 1000 Titles:- 28 (3rd in All-Time list)
• Weeks at World Number 1:- 310 (1st in All-Time list)
2. Rafael Nadal
• Grandslams:- 19 (2nd in All-Time list)
• ATP Masters 1000 Titles:- 35 (1st in All-Time list)
• Weeks at World Number 1:- 196 (6th in All-Time list)
3. Novak Djokovic (Current World Number 1 (ATP Rankings))
• Grandslams:- 16 (3rd in All-Time list)
• ATP Masters 1000 Titles:- 33 (2nd in All-Time list)
• Weeks at World Number 1:- 269 (4th in All-Time list)
In tennis, a player’s greatness is measured based on the parameters mentioned above, the number of Grandslams won, number of Masters 1000 Titles won and total weeks as World Number 1 in ATP ranking systems. And the data above is sufficient to say that these three giants are probably the best three tennis players in the history of the sport. But nobody is interested in who are the top-3 players of a particular sport, everybody is interested in ‘Who is the GREATEST player of the sport’. In other terms who is the GOAT(Greatest of All-Time).
First of all, these types of comparison are not the best way to decide who is the best player in the HISTORY of the sport, you can determine who is the best player of the CURRENT ERA by this kind of analysis. Because you simply can’t compare today’s player with the players of ’80s or ’90s. The game has evolved a lot, the playing styles of players have changed very much and the equipments are far better than older days. Even the court speed has decreased so drastically. Like this, there are many more factors that affect a player’s performance. So even if, when these three great players retire, we shall probably decide who is the greatest player of this particular era and people will also claim that he is the GOAT too. Many will also agree with that but still, it is upto you to decide if someone is better than the other or not unless they have had some battles. It is very difficult to decide who is the GOAT of the current era, as they are so close in terms of records. All of them have gone through the phases when everybody, their fans and even the experts have written them completely off but they rose from the ashes and showed why they are the BIG-3 of tennis. For example at 2017 Australian Open, Federer and Nadal were coming back from injuries after roughly 6 and 4 months respectively. Many experts or rather most of the experts predicted that they will win some matches for sure but surely none of them would win the title. And guess what, they both faced each other in the finals in a match for the ages. Such has been the aura of these 3 players.
• Roger Federer
Currently, many tennis analysts, experts and former players consider Federer as the greatest player in the history of the sport. His records also speak for their claims too. He is an artist who makes the game look very easy, such is his playing style. He is also the synonym of consistency. At the age of 38 currently, he is still competing at the highest level. Many former players at this age have started playing Legend’s Doubles Tennis at this age, but as someone rightly said ‘He is a legend playing Tennis’. One of the most unique thing about Federer is when he became the World number 1 most recently, all the nine players who were among top-10 when Federer became World number 1 for the first time had retired. This shows how constant Federer has been throughout his career. Schedule of his matches are decided by economic realities. He holds numerous records in Grand Slams like: most titles won(20), highest finals reached(31), highest matches won(357), most number of quarter-finals(56), most number of semi-finals(45), most consecutive finals(10), semi-finals(23), quarter-finals(36). He also has record 6 World Tour Finals Titles. He also held World Number 1 ranking position for 237 consecutive weeks. Apart from all these unimaginable stats and records, there are many others too. By looking at the current scenario, Nadal may surpass his overall Grand Slam haul and Novak can break his record of most weeks at World Number 1 rankings. But still, there are many more countless records of him that can not be broken. As per all these records, Federer should be considered the GOAT right now, but still, there is something which also contradicts this statement.
Federer has two main rivals in his career. Nadal and Djokovic. At the beginning of his dominance in the tennis world, Nadal was the only one who could challenge him. They built up an intense rivalry. Then both of them had ups and downs in their careers and their clashes became rare. Federer against Djokovic is also an extremely intense rivalry, but somehow it got sidelined by Federer-Nadal and Nadal-Djokovic rivalry. Despite holding so many records Federer trails in head to head against both of his main rivals. He stands at 16-24 against Nadal and 22-26 against Djokovic. One can argue that a player is not the best when he has losing record against his main rivals. One other thing is Federer has 28 Masters 1000 title, whereas Nadal has 35 of them and Novak has 33. But Federer has been a bit unfortunate in terms of Masters 1000 tournaments. The grass is Federer’s favourite surface and he has won 8 Wimbledon titles(all-time highest), he has many records in grass-court tennis too. But there are no Masters 1000 tournaments played on grass, which has affected Federer’s Masters’ count. But anyway, as always the numbers have the last word. Many people believe that Federer is a ‘Weak-Era Champ’, meaning he won most of his titles when he faced almost no competition from the opposition. This statement is in some sense complete disrespect to all other players. First of all, Federer is almost five years older than Nadal and Novak. So one thing is for sure that all of them can’t peak at the same time. It is obvious that when Federer was at his peak form, only Nadal was there to challenge him. Novak came into light very late despite being of the almost same age as Nadal. It is not like that Federer is the weak era champ, but it is like he made the era look weak. So these are some facts and stats which oppose Federer being the greatest of all.
• Rafael Nadal
If in any profession, you want to put somebody ahead of even the God Himself, it has to be Rafael Nadal playing tennis on a Clay-Court. This man can be beaten on clay if only if he is injured or somehow he has a really bad day at the office. You can give your 110% but still, even 90% of him would be enough to absorb your 110% efforts. Beating Nadal on red dirt has to be one of the most challenging tasks in sports if not the most challenging. Nadal has humiliated Federer by a 14-2 margin on clay courts. While Novak has a somewhat respectable record of 7-17 against the clay court king. Federer just hasn’t been able to handle Nadal’s loopy cross-court forehands with his one-handed backhand throughout his career, in 2017 he somehow found a way to counter his forehands and since then he has won 5 out of last 6 matches between them. Djokovic’s playing style is somewhat similar to Nadal’s. They both like to stay at the baseline and out rally the opponent. Some of their matches have been extremely long. Djokovic-Nadal is said to be the most intense rivalry in tennis, with Novak leading with 28-26. No other pair has played these many matches against each other. Nadal holds 19 Grand Slams, out of which 12 came at the French Open. Nadal also has the most number of Masters 1000 titles in history. Almost every single record of clay court tennis belongs to him. His 12 French Open titles are the most by any player at a particular tournament. He is also the youngest player to complete his career Grand Slam at the age of 24. He is only one Grand Slam shy of Federer and can surpass Federer’s number too. He also has an Olympic Single’s Gold medal which none of the other two has. His never give up attitude also separates him from other players.
The department where Nadal has been the most dominant entity in history also somehow questions his overall greatness in the GOAT debate. Nadal has won only 7 out of his 19 Slams on the non-clay surface. Out of his 35 Masters 1000 titles, only 10 have been on the non-clay surface. This can raise claims that Nadal is not an all-round player. In some way, this argument is supporting and contradicting at the same time. First of all Nadal’s record isn’t that bad on non-clay surfaces. It even ranks in one of the best too, but the thing is it is somewhat inferior to his two main rivals, so this claim can be made. On the other hand, you are ignoring the fact that Federer and Djokovic have poorer clay record compared to Nadal’s clay record. Thus, it goes both ways. Clay is also an important tennis surface, you can not ignore it, but you also can not ignore hard and grass courts. Nadal’s playing style is also very demanding. He has suffered through many injuries in his career, he had to miss many tournaments because of this, which also affected his overall title counts and other stats. One other factor is Nadal has never won year-ending ATP World Tour finals, which is considered to be a very elite tournament. Federer and Novak have won that tournament 6 times and 5 times respectively.
• Novak Djokovic
Novak is considered to be one of the most complete players of all time. His fitness is also of another level. He is said to be the best returner in the history of the sports. His records on hard-courts are exceptional. His mental strength is also possibly the highest among his rivals. He is the only player in the open era to win all 4 Grand Slams consecutively. He is also the only player to have won all the 9 Masters 1000 titles completing the Carrer Golden Masters. He also has a positive head to head record against both of his main rivals. He has won two Grand Slams after being match points down in one of the round. Like Nadal, he too has a never give up attitude. He has the most Australian Open titles(7). He is currently the World Number 1 and can probably overtake Federer in that stat. He also has a shot at the most Grand Slam count. His consistency has been impeccable from 2011, except a bad phase from 2017 to mid-2018. But now he has regained his best form and once again ruling the tennis world. He also has 2 Olympic Bronze medals.
Novak has almost all the checkbox ticked to be the greatest player of all time. But first he has to win the most number of Grand Slams, then only people will accept him as the greatest. But there is also something which many of the fans have ignored. Novak won his first Slam in 2008 Australian Open. He won his next Slam at the same tournament in 2011. And then the Djokovic-Era began. He won 40 odd consecutive matches at the start of 2011 to announce the beginning of his reign. But this is the year from when Federer’s downfall started. Federer was almost 30 years old in 2011, and somewhat past his absolute prime. Nadal too had not been too consistent on hard courts and then Djokovic came and started winning almost everything. It is not like Novak’s level remained the same and only his opponents became slightly week. It is not at all like that, but it is like Novak improved a lot and his chances got boosted because of a slight dip in the form of his rivals. He also challenged Nadal on clay courts and won many matches. Moreover, he managed to win a match against Nadal at the French Open in 2015. If Novak can break one or two of Federer’s record he can surely be the greatest. But in sports it is not only about numbers and stats, how do normal people/fans see you are also important. Novak, despite being one of the best, has received so less admiration and love from the fans. Many tennis fans find his playing style a bit boring compared to the other two. Novak plays like a machine, his play is more or less errorless. He can chase almost every ball and can send it back to you and eventually draw an error from the opponent. Normal fans like an aggressive style of play and like to see player hitting winners. Although it has no effects on his records and achievements, when fans just don’t accept you like the greatest, you must have a lot better record than your competitors. Novak recently injured his shoulder and he had to withdraw from the US Open midmatch. If that injury is serious, he can once again have that unwanted bad phase in his career.
So right then, we have seen most of the possible permutations and combinations that are possible in the GOAT debate. One thing for sure, right now no one can be termed as the GOAT. Once all the three retires than only we can decide who is the greatest. And there are high chances that even after that we will not be able to separate them. Their records will be close to each other and having one or two Grand Slam more should not mean that you are the greatest. So as per now the GOAT debate should be closed for a while and everybody should just enjoy this Golden Era of tennis till it lasts. It’s rare that probably 3 of the best players in history are competing at the same time and taking the best out of each other.