The neverending Tennis GOAT Debate

In recent years the debate over the Tennis G.O.A.T has been going on and on. Who is the Greatest Of All Time? Some say it’s impossible to compare between the different generations, others argue that it should be clearly defined by the most number of grand slam wins. Tennis is an amazing sport full of statistics, and one could spend an endless amount of time going through the figures, compare between the champions and keep the debate going endlessly. This is interesting, let’s dig into it a little bit further, shall we?

I’m a Roger Federer fan. Massive fan. I admire the man on and off the court. When I try to analyse the reasons why am I so emotionally connected, it’s very clear to me the same way it must be clear to millions of other sports fans around the globe. Roger is a role model, an inspiration, a classic athlete and gentleman, who keeps pushing the boundaries and denying the gravity of aging. The things he does at the age of 38 are truly remarkable, and there’s no doubt that he’s the most loved tennis player of all time. The way he plays his attacking tennis on the court, the way he speaks with such grace and humble off the court, is setting the tone for others. He is considered by most people as the greatest tennis ambassador ever, having made the highest impact on the sport throughout the years. The support he’s getting from fans everywhere he plays is second to none. It’s not the same story with the other two players included in this debate.

Rafael Nadal is a freak of nature, a powerhouse, a warrior who fights on each and every point, and by all means the ultimate King of Clay. You cannot argue with his outstanding success on the red dirt, and they should really change the name of the French Open to Rafael Nadal Open, though the french would not allow that. Rafa, as much as he is loved and supported by many around the world, was always number 2 and in my opinion will always be. His OCD behaviour on the court is tiring, the time it takes him to serve a ball can last as much as a swift RF service game, and I don’t know about you but looking at him pulling his undies over and over again during a tennis match is revolting, to say the least. To watch Rafa play is nothing less than exhausting… In fact, even at his “home ground” in Paris they don’t seem to really like him, not so much, judging by the crowd’s reaction when he plays against an opponent like, say, Roger Federer. I don’t blame them. They probably had enough of seeing the same dude winning over and over again. Outstanding performance, but boring.

Speaking of boring, what’s his face, the other guy, number 3? oh right, Novak Djokovic, the Djoker. Certainly, he’s a machine. I didn’t come up with that, his previous coach Boris Becker did. The man copied a lot from Rafa and became a baseline specialist and the greatest returner of all times. Experts say he’s the most efficient player. He will make you work hard and return every ball back until his opponent makes the mistake. Not so much creativity, merely consistent returns, long rallies, defensive tennis and soccer-player-like behaviour, on and off the court. No wonder why he is the least favourite among tennis fans between the three of them. An exceptional player however he just doesn’t have it, and it’s a pity to see him wanting to be liked by the crowd, so obsessively, though he knows he would always be number 3 in the eyes of most supporters. Even if one day Novak would break all the records in the books, nobody would really count him as number 1 outside of his homeland Serbia.

Back to tennis statistics. Look, this is endless really. The media is looking at everything you can think of. The number of slams, sure. The number of slam semi-finals, quarter-finals. Appearances. Same for other tournaments – the ATP 1000 tournaments which only started in the ’90s.  And the luxurious ATP FInals where the top 8 players of the year play between each other. Then the Number 1 ranking, throughout the year, and separately who finished a calendar year as Number 1. Then, head to head between players, on hard court, clay or grass. Oh, there used to be an indoor carpet too. Those stats just never end. Someone must be making a lot of money collecting them.

When Roger Federer broke Pete Sampras all-time record of 14, Novak had only 1. This clearly shows the two champions belong to different generations altogether. It is amazing that Roger still stuck around to defend and extend his record. People say Roger won many of his titles in an era where no big players were around until Nadal showed up. Well, 15 years later, are there any other big players around to stop these guys today? It’s the same old argument I guess, depends on which side you’re on. So what happens if and when one of these guys breaks the record? If Nadal surpasses Roger one day in the tally of grand slams, it would be by winning the vast majority of his trophies at the same tournament, Roland Garros. We all agree he’s the king of clay, but surely not the king of tennis overall. If Djokovic does it, which at the moment seem to be very realistic, well, ask yourself – did he really have any real competition around to stop him other than two aging giants well beyond their peak?

The astonishing thing about this trio is that they completely own the tennis tour for the last 15 years. So extraordinary that it raises a very concerning question – where is the next generation (#nextgen)? it is only natural and expected that champions come and go. The champs of today decline as the younger players advance and push them aside. It happened for so many generations before with players like Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Edberg, Becker, Agassi and Sampras but for some reason it doesn’t happen now. Is it something to do with Generation Z? is it laziness and not willing to work hard anymore? is it the prize money that skyrocketed in the last few years which makes it not worthwhile to go all the way since you can make enough money in the early stages of a grand slam tournament? where the hack is the next generation of tennis players and how come they are unable to defeat these three seniors?

And so, it is time for salvation. For many years I’ve been terrified of the thought of anyone overcoming Federer’s records. The highest number of grand slams. The highest number of weeks as Number 1 in the world. The highest number of tournament wins overall. If Roger would have won one of those 2 match points at Wimbledon 2019, would it make him the GOAT because he beat both Nadal and Djokovic at the same tournament a month before his 38th birthday? and the fact that he didn’t, does it make defensive Djoker the greatest? Should we wait and see what happens next as Rafa is attempting to hold his shattered body together and keep winning more trophies on clay? as Novak is obsessed with his love-hate relationship with the crowd, not realising that it’s all to do with how he plays it out on the court in comparison with the other two champs? For me, it’s time to admit that this endless debate is absurd. Records are there to be broken, and I wish the young generation of players would step up and put an end to this irrational era. Trophies should be divided between more and more players, same as it is in women’s tennis in the past decade, so men’s tennis dominance is due to end. Some time, in the next 10 to 15 years…

Let’s hope we all enjoy our tennis experiences. Our heroes will retire and enter the hall-of-fame, new stars will rise, but most importantly we should really enjoy the ride. I must admit I certainly do not, when I’m too stressed about how the GOAT debate eventually plays out. So between us, tennis fans, does it really matter?

RF_Wimbledon_2009

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