Who is the GOAT (greatest of all time) tennis player among men? Tennis analyst Samir Talwar digs deeper into this argument…
The last decade and a half is often referred to as the “Golden Era” of men’s tennis. This is primarily due to the relentless dominance of the “Big 3”, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Grand Slam tournaments and ATP Masters 1000s, dating back to the mid 2000s have been dominated by them like no other era in the sport, or perhaps any other sport. There has been talk about G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) more often than not in recent times, and some combination of all of them continues to reckon in that discussion.
G.O.A.T is a very subjective topic, and difficult to compare across generations, given the evolution of the sport, technology, media and other factors.
It will be difficult to have such a conversation that does not include Rod Laver, given he has completed the calendar slam twice, something no one else has ever done.
Grass court specialists like Stefan Edberg, and Boris Becker, have struggled to win on clay, whereas clay court specialists have never managed to win on grass. Bjorn Borg has won five Wimbledon and six French Opens, can one possibly leave him out of the discussion?
Pete Sampras never won a clay slam, but can his dominance on the grass of Wimbledon, go unnoticed, and be left out among candidates with all-time greatness?
While not checking some of these boxes, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl among others have some equally compelling feats in the sport.
If one turns to the majors and dominance there, one cannot look much beyond Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
Federer’s slam count, longevity, and other records such as consecutive slam quarter-finals and semi-final appearances are reasons enough to call him the undisputed greatest ever perhaps.
But, then, we have Rafael Nadal, with 11 French Open victories and having won all other slams, and a 23-15 (once 23-10) record against his greatest rival, Roger Federer, (who today’s media and pundits call the G.O.A.T.).
On the other hand, Djokovic has a better head-to-head against both his arch rivals, and has won all Masters titles (something no one else has), so is he aligned for all time greatness like no other?
This then leaves us to reasonably conclude that there are limiting factors when we look for the greatest of them all and perhaps there is none, but just many all-time greats. That is probably where things stand today and a takeaway that would appease any and all pundits.
Given that the careers of the Big ‘3’ are still in motion, one is then left to consider if this status quo can perhaps change, and if so how?
At 37 years of age, it is unlikely that Federer will win many more slams (or any more slams), and neither will he be able to improve his record against Nadal or Djokovic greatly.
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Another clay slam beating Nadal would be a momentous achievement, for instance, but chances of that seem next to none.
Winning slams outside of clay at this moment seems a bit far-fetched for Nadal as well, and so does getting to 20 slams and beyond. Getting the better of his rivalry against Djokovic also seems difficult.
Novak Djokovic, however, is at a stage, where he can truly end his career as the undisputed greatest of all time. At 31 years of age, with 15 grand slams, he is well positioned to overtake both Nadal and Federer in the slam count.
As mentioned earlier, he is the only player to have already won all Masters 1000s, and is one behind Nadal in the total count, a record he is again well-placed to overtake and hold himself.
Being the first person to win all slams twice in the Open era, and win the calendar slam are both records that seem within his reach. Holding all slams at the same time (not in the same year), is a record he has held and may well hold again if he wins the French Open this summer.
With a favorable head-to-head against Nadal and Federer, and with no one else in the field that really poses a threat to him at the big stage in the foreseeable future, Djokovic could end his career with all the records in the book that matter – winning a slam 11 times, and equal number of clay and grass slams probably being outliers.
A decade ago, he was referred to as “best at being third best”.
That being said, the sport has shown us time and again, how quickly things change positively and not. Another Nadal resurgence, another 2017 for Federer, or another 2017 for Djokovic, and the equation could read very different very soon.
However, forecasts can only be made, based on present factors. While, the G.O.A.T is still a difficult and subjective topic, Novak Djokovic today presents a very strong case to be there, early into the next decade, until it all changes and the unpredictability of sport takes over again.