For the last 20 years, we have witnessed a golden era of tennis. We tennis fans have been treated to epic matches, spectacular rallies and one of the most legendary rivalries in tennis history.
We are talking about Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the so-called Big 3 of tennis. For many tennis fans, the question now is: Who is the GOAT in tennis, i.e. the best in history?
What is the meaning of GOAT?
Before we can answer this question, we need to define the term GOAT.
The term GOAT, meaning "Greatest of all time", was made world famous by the American boxing legend Muhammad Ali when he referred to himself as the GOAT before his boxing match against Sonny Liston.
This term has now become established in the sports world and refers to the best in each sport.
Who is the best tennis player in history?
A lot has changed in tennis over the last 55 years. The different surfaces have been adapted, the technology has changed and even the weighting of the different tournaments has shifted as well. Therefore, we only consider the current era of tennis for the rating.
Tennis is a sport for statistics lovers. There are countless records and statistics that could be mentioned. In order not to go beyond the scope of this article, we will concentrate on the most important titles and records.
All three players are on par in terms of Grand Slams. An exciting head-to-head race awaits us. Djokovic, however, has the opportunity to win the Grand Slam with a success at the US Open, i.e. all four Grand Slam titles in one calendar year.
ATP Tour Masters 1000
With the tournament win in Rome, Rafael has clinched his 36th Masters title and has drawn level with Novak Djokovic. Roger Federer is currently behind with 28 1000 titles.
ATP Tour 500
Roger Feder leads the ranking with 24 ATP 500 titles, closely followed by Rafael Nadal, who can call 22 titles his. Novak is a full 10 titles behind Roger.
The ATP Finals take place at the end of each year and will be held in Turin for the first time in 2021. The Swiss tennis superstar leads the ranking with 6 titles, while Djokovic is in second place with 5. Rafael Nadal has never won the tennis final at the ATP Finals.
Number of weeks No.1
The race for the perpetual number 1 in world tennis seems to be decided. With 330 weeks, Novak leads the list solidly. It is hard to imagine Roger (310 weeks) and Rafael (209 weeks) climbing the tennis throne again. We can be curious to see how far Djokovic will extend this record.
Rafael Nadal is the only one of the Big 3 to have won an Olympic gold medal in singles. Together with Stanislas Wawrinka, Roger Federer won gold in the doubles, while Djokovic can only call bronze in the singles his own.
The biggest rivalries & Head2Head
No opponent has Rafael Nadal (58x) and Roger Federer (51x) had to play more times than Novak Djokovic.
Novak is ahead in the Head2Head statistics. Novak has a positive record against both Rafael (30-28) and Roger (27-23).
Profit rate overall
If you look at the win rate of all matches, Djokovic also leads just ahead of Nadal and Federer. However, it has to be said that Roger and Rafael have played more matches and the numbers will change over the next few months.
If you consider the most important titles, number of weeks as number 1, Head2Head and the overall win rate, then objectively speaking there is one overall winner and that is Novak Djokovic. On Ultimate Tennis Statistics he tops the "Open Era GOAT List" ahead of Roger and Rafael, which can change after every match or tournament win.
Which of the Big 3 has the GOAT Factor?
However, we do not want to be satisfied with bare figures and hard facts, but would like to find out which of the Big 3 has the ultimate GOAT factor. In doing so, we would like to address the subjective arguments of tennis fans and also express our opinion.
When you hear the name Roger Federer, you think of the shining light of tennis. He is the first of the Big 3 to dominate the tennis circuit and still enjoys great popularity as a result.
Roger Federer also showed what is possible in tennis and that the Grand Slam record of Pete Sampras (14) can be broken.
Many of his fans consider Roger Federer a GOAT and the most common arguments are his elegant style of play, his likeable manner on and off the court, and that he is the player with the greatest talent.
As a counter-argument, however, it is often mentioned that he had to give up his relevant records and that most of his successes were collected in a weaker era compared to Nadal and Djokovic. He also has a negative Head2Head record against his opponents.
GOAT factor: sympathy and playing style
His irrepressible power is like a force of nature and his fearless aura has long been the trademark of Rafael Nadal. He was the first opponent of Roger Federer who could play at eye level. Together with
Roger Federer, he dominated the major tournaments from 2005 to 2010 and the matches between the two quickly became crowd pullers.
Rafael's favourite surface is red clay. Out of 507 matches, he won no less than 464 games, i.e. 91.52% (!). No wonder he is also called the King of Clay, because this rate is unparalleled.
Rafael's dangerous topspin forehand and his power have long been recognised as the best clay court player in history and for many fans he is the GOAT of tennis. Quite a few counter-argue with the fact that he has won most of the Grand Slams on red clay.
GOAT factor: Power
Novak Djokovic is the personification of willpower in tennis. No other player is able to raise his level as quickly and turn around hopeless matches as Novak has done on many occasions, most recently in the French Open final against Tsitsipas.
This willpower has not gone unrewarded. Since 2010, he has single-handedly won 19 Grand Slams, while Roger and Rafael have a combined total of 15.
For many neutral tennis fans, Novak Djokovic has long been the GOAT and his numbers back up this claim. He currently has the most weeks as No. 1 on his account, a positive Head2Head record against Roger and Rafael and he is the only one to have won every Grand Slam twice. He also had to prove himself at a time when Roger and Rafael were at their most dominant.
But there are also people who do not want to recognise Novak Djokovic as GOAT. With the arguments that he has not achieved the same popularity as Roger and Rafael or that he cannot control his emotions.
GOAT Factor: Willpower
As mentioned at the beginning, the Big 3 are the best thing that could have happened to tennis. Tennis has never been as diverse and balanced at the top as it has been in this golden era. That is why it is also very difficult to choose the GOAT. Every player has his strengths and weaknesses and every fan has different preferences.
If one were to go purely by the numbers, which would also be the most objective and honest way, then the winner would be Novak Djokovic. He has dominated his opponents over the last 10 years, catching up with or even surpassing them in the most important areas.
Novak Djokovic also has the GOAT factor, his mental strength, which gives him an elementary competitive advantage.
Even though Roger Federer's style of play is beautiful to watch, it is difficult for me to choose this criterion as a GOAT factor, because the style of play is a matter of taste. Some people prefer the crazy style of Gael Monfils, others Rafael Nadal's power tennis.
I was also not entirely convinced by the argument of sympathy, as this criterion is not related to sporting performance and can be influenced by various factors (PR agency, media, etc.).
I would consider this criterion relevant if we were to judge the financial aspects of an athlete.
Although Rafael Nadal is a supremacy on clay, he cannot, however, call up the hundred percent of his class on grass or hard court as he can on the red clay. Therefore, physical power as a GOAT factor also has to be put into perspective.
Even if the decision to choose willpower as the GOAT factor is also purely subjective, Novak Djokovic has proven to us several times in the most important moments that he can move mountains with his willpower, such as in the legendary Wimbledon final in 2019.
There he had to deal not only with a very strong Roger Federer, but also with the crowd, which loudly cheered Roger Winner and Novak's mistakes. Although (it felt like) 15,000 people were against Djokovic, he managed to fend off two match points and finally turned the match in his favour.
Even if it sounds paradoxical, Novak benefited from the two best players in history. Because Roger and Nadal seemed untouchable, Novak's willpower was able to grow even stronger through this resistance until he acquired the skills with which he could break through their phalanx.
Who do you think is the GOAT in tennis?
If you liked this article, follow us on Instagram and don't miss any new blog posts.