Who is the Greatest Men’s Tennis Player of All Time?

Who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time? That’s a hot topic on tour these days and for good reason. This is the golden era of men’s tennis. In my opinion, the three best players ever are playing right now; ranked #1, #2 and #3-still. Those players are Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic.

Who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time?

I’m well aware that it’s hard to compare eras, the equipment is different, top players travel with physios, nutrition is different, Rod Laver won a Grand Slam, Pete Sampras won 14 majors, players didn’t really start playing in Australia until the mid/late 80’s and there aren’t as many great players as there used to be, etc.

Who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time?

All those arguments have some merit but to me, it’s a no-brainer, the three greatest tennis players that ever lived are playing right now, at the top level and I don’t even think it’s debatable. So, who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time?

Who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time?

First let’s look at the numbers:

Who is the Greatest Men’s Tennis Player of All Time?

When you examine these hard numbers you have to look a little closer at them and put some context to them. Roger Federer is 5 and 6 years older than Nadal and Djokovic respectively. He won his first ATP title in 2001, whereas Nadal won his first in 2004 and Djokovic 2006. Federer had his most dominant period from 2004-2007 where he won an absurd 11 grand slam titles.

While Nadal has always been incredibly consistent winning the French Open 11 times dating back to 2005; his most dominant period was 2008-2010 where he won 6 majors and completed the career grand slam.

Novak Djokovic had his extended period of dominance from 2011-2016 where he won 11 majors and was in 7 other finals. He not only completed the career grand slam to match Federer and Nadal but he also held all four grand slam titles at the same time. Something nobody had done since Rod Laver won the grand slam in 1969. I remember because I was in Paris to witness his 2016 Roland Garros win over Andy Murray!

The reason I mention the period of dominance and age is because during each players dominant years they accumulated a lot of titles and statistics while keeping the others down. Hence, the descending age to title chart with these 3 players. However, what really sets them apart to me is the head to head matchups and those numbers might surprise you.

Djokovic vs Federer

Djokovic leads 24-22 overall, 13-6 in all Finals, 5-3 in Masters Finals and 3-1 in Grand Slam Finals with Federer’s only win coming in the 2007 US Open Final which was Djokovic’s first ever Grand Slam Final. Plus Djokovic beat Federer twice in the Wimbledon final without losing one to him.

Djokovic vs Federer

I’ve seen nearly every one of these matches between these 2 greats. Federer won the majority early in the rivalry and Djokovic has pretty much dominated in the last several years taking the head to head lead and more importantly-winning handily the biggest matches, the finals.

Advantage Djokovic

Djokovic vs Nadal

Djokovic leads 28-26 overall, 15-11 in all Finals, and they’re tied 3-3 in Masters Finals and 4-4 in Grand Slam Finals. It needs to be noted that Djokovic has beaten Nadal in all 4 Grand Slams including Roland Garros where Nadal has won 11 titles and only lost 2 matches since 2005. Federer never beat Nadal at the French Open in 5 opportunities including 4 finals along with a semifinal.

Djokovic vs Nadal

These are perhaps the most entertaining matches in the history of tennis. I’ve been fortunate to witness several in person and yearn for more. The most interesting thing in this rivalry is that Nadal leads on clay 17-7. 7 losses to Djokovic is more on clay than Federer, Murray, Wawrinka and basically everyone else combined.

Advantage Djokovic

Nadal vs Federer

Nadal leads 23-15 overall, 14-10 in all Finals, 7-5 in Masters Finals and 6-3 in Grand Slam Finals. Nadal beat Federer in Finals in Australia, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Federer beat him in Australia and Wimbledon but is 0-5 at the French and only 2-7 in clay Finals and 2-13 overall on clay.

Federer vs Nadal

This is a tough one for any Federer fan to swallow because Nadal basically has owned Federer over the years. Yes Roger has won the last 5 meetings to narrow the gap a bit but his inability to beat Rafa on clay and never beat him in Paris, never even taking him to 5 sets at Roland Garros, definitely hurts his case.

Advantage Nadal

So, who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time? After really examining the numbers and the fact that I’ve meticulously watched these 3 warriors for the last 15 years I can make an argument for and against each of them for being the greatest of all time but in my mind here are the bottom line arguments.

big 3

Roger Federer, at the moment has the most grand slam titles. But his inability to beat Rafael Nadal consistently and basically at all on clay hurts his case. How can you be the best of all time if you cannot beat your biggest rival at Roland Garros in 5 tries especially when Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon and took him to 5 another time. He’s also lost to Djokovic at all 4 majors and twice in Wimbledon finals.

Wimbledon Federer

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the greatest clay court player of all time. In fact, his dominance on clay may be the most dominant thing in any sport-ever. Of his 81 titles, 58 are on clay. Of his 17 majors, 11 are French Opens. Nothing against his amazing clay court prowess but it overshadows the rest of his game; which is also great. But he is not the best all court player of the 3 men and he has a losing record to Djokovic as well.

Nadal on clay

Novak Djokovic took his lumps from Federer and Nadal early on in his career, learned, waited patiently and then took over. His peak was and is better and more dominant than any player-ever. More importantly, he wins finals against his biggest rivals. He is 28-17 in all finals against Federer and Nadal. That’s a big number. Plus, he has a winning record against them both and has beaten Federer at Wimbledon multiple times and has beaten Rafa at Roland Garros. Additionally, he is the only person ever to win all 9 Masters 1000 events-that cannot be understated. Add that he’s the youngest of the group and I don’t think he’s done yet. Barring injury he’ll add more titles to continue his assault on the other 2 guys.

Djokovic

All that said, Novak Djokovic is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time! I know all 3 are still playing and each should add to their numbers. But at this point in time, I don’t see how you can conclude anything else than the greatest of all time is Novak Djokovic. As a Federer loyalist that hurts to say, but sometimes the truth hurts. In the end, many of the victory numbers will more or less even out. However for me, Novak Djokovic consistently beats his biggest rivals in the biggest matches on all surfaces. That’s the bottom line as to why Djokovic is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. What do you think?

Comments

  1. I love your argument backed up by numbers. However, until someone overtakes Federer with major wins it’s hard for me to say it’s anyone but him.

    • I hear you but there’s more to a great player than simply number of majors. Do you not consider Tiger Woods the best golfer ever? Do you penalize him because he only has 14 majors to Nicklaus’s 18? I don’t.

    • Agree but in the end the titles matter. Who won the most titles and majors? Answer is simple RF!
      Plus RF majors have variety barring French open. All slams many times, longest #1 player.
      I don’t see any argument on this!

      • haha of course there’s an argument.

        Fed has 6 years on Novak who also has a nice variety of majors.

        This argument all gets settled end of career of course but it’s fun to discuss something now that has no answer!

  2. I personally believe that Roger Federer is the best Tennis player of this generation indeed.

    • He’s certainly my favorite player but it’s hard to argue against what I wrote.

      • Brennan Sanchez says

        Your post as well as the statistics that you’ve pointed out as your basis of who’s the GOAT in tennis were very accurate and i couldn’t agree more if we talked about analytics. However, don’t forget that there are intangibles as well and the strongest case why Roger Federer is still the GOAT is the fact that he has the most major title wins and he spent the most no. of weeks being the No.1.
        I like your argument about Novak because it’s a pretty strong argument. However, many pundits and sports journalists of today, still consider Roger as the GOAT and Rafa as No.2.. Infact, they have Novak currently at No.3.
        The only legitimate and precise statement that you had in which i totally agree 100% is that the 3 of them clearly are the greatest tennis players of all-time.

        • It’s aobviously all opinion and people get emotional about Roger and Rafa. However, I did offer pretty compelling numbers to back up my statement but of course it’s still opinion. In the end I think we’ll have distinct answers in 5 years or so when they’re all done playing and you can really compare the full numbers. Although I imagine most Federer fans will never accept anything other than Fed as the top.

          • Let us be out of emotion then. I pretty much agree with you in one thing: it is between Roger, Rafael and Novak, Borg is out of his league here, mostly due to a shorter career. Rod Laver is perhaps hardest to judge, as he\’s a player from two different eras (pre-open and open) as well as… having both, amateur and pro Slams. He dominated pre-open amateur era, as well as pre-open pro era, as well as… early time of open era itself, and was even able to win all of GS titles in one year (he did it twice, I know… but once in open era). He seems to be somehow too good to be placed among best players of open era, and yet not good enough, to be placed above them.
            You did a good work, but there are some points, that I\’m not agree with you:

            \”He’s certainly my favorite player but it’s hard to argue against what I wrote.\”

            Is it? Not at all. Lets start with Roger vs Novak, okey? It wont be very oryginal, but there is a very important thing, that had to be noted: Roger is older. So, that\’s why he has an inferior bilans to Novak? Yes and no. Look at this:
            2003 – Roger takes his first GS title at the age 21.
            2008 – Novak takes his first GS title at the age 22.
            2004 – It\’s a first year that he dominated in terms of GS and rank. His prime starts here, age 22.
            2010 – he past his prime a little bit, but still was nearly at his peak. It will be his last seaon when he\’s taking at least a one GS title. Excluding Nadal, taking only Roger and Novak into account, Roger\’s prime ends here.
            2011 – It is the first year, since 2008, when Novak won a majority of GS titles and – in my opinion – his best year in terms of playing (2015 might be more succesful, but was easier as well). Let us do an assumption:
            2003-2010 – \”Roger\’s Era\”
            2011 – 2018 \”Novak\’s Era\”
            They met:
            2006: Federer 2:0 Djokovic
            2007: Federer 3:1 Djokovic
            2008: Federer 2:1 Djokovic
            2009: Federer 2:3 Djokovic
            2010: Federer 4:1 Djokovic
            2011: Federer 1:4 Djokovic
            2012: Federer 2:3 Djokovic
            2013: Federer 0:2 Djokovic
            2014: Federer 3:3 Djokovic
            2015: Federer 2:5 Djokovic
            2016: Federer 0:1 Djokovic
            2017: Federer 0:0 Djokovic
            2018: Federer 0:2 Djokovic
            19 times during \”Roger Era\”, score was: 13:6 for Roger
            28 times during \”Novak\’s Era\”, score was 20:8 for Novak
            As you see, there were a years, when Roger played better and worse, even in his prime years, same for Novak. Pitty for Roger, that they have not met in 2017, perhaps he could improve his H2H. Anyway, as you see, it\’s a bit pointless to taking H2H as some maijor factor – they would have to met each other in the same tournaments each year, – that would make it a fair factor. For now, GS titles, weeks as top1, tour finals titles, atp 1000 titles… it\’s all that truly matter, and Roger has some advantage in those terms. Until now.

          • Your argument is certainly backed up by real numbers. If we are considering the greatest,
            Then why are the rivals able to beat each other only on certain surfaces. The greatest player is put to the test by performing well on each surface and is consistently playing well and winning, likewise when we are talking grand slam titles we must understand that some of these finals did consist of luck, any 5 set final could have been any winner, so my argument is simply, the grand slam totals are irrelevant to how they actually perform when playing each other, for this reason Novak Djokovic may not be crowd favourite for the win (roger but also Rafa have so many fans) , but Djokovic is the GOAT. Federer fans will eventually come through with understanding, since we are still watching them play

          • You can’t control who you play in tennis and Roger dominated and was #1 over 15 years at times. In the end I think Novak will overtake him in number of weeks at #1 so it’ll be a cut and dry argument. But Federer has Roddick, Safin, Hewitt and still Agassi plus others to deal with in his beginning of dominance as well.

        • I would like to comment on Federer having the most number of weeks at No.1. Clearly, he holds the record but let us not forget that this happened in an era where he was dominating all other players except Nadal of course on clay courts. But with Djokovic’s case, you cannot discount the fact that he is battling with more competitive and respected opponents such as Nadal , Federer, Murray and the likes of Wawrinka, Del Potro, etc. He’s generation is far more competitive than than when Federer dominated tennis with Nadal on his way. So I think Djokovic should be given due credit for winning big matches against big opponents.

          • I agree and think he has credit now

          • DonGorila says

            I disagree about this generation being more competitive. Against the Big 3, only Murray, Del Potro and Wawrinka showed some level of opposition (at least they did up to 2017, but not anymore). I don’t see any of those 3 being better than Hewitt, Safin, Rios, Kuerten… or Rafa himself: let’s not forget Rafa was N°2 back in 2005; he may be way younger than Roger, but peaked way younger than the Swiss.

  3. To say that anyone other than Roger is the best ever just shows you have no idea what you’re talking about. You should stick to travel and leave tennis to the tennis writers.

  4. I think it’s Nadal because he has beaten Federer so many times. Plus, he won the epic Wimbledon match against the 5 time defending champ Fed.

    • You know it’s really funny. You take the time to do all this research and have hard numbers and facts to back up your claims and people just say blanket things as opposed to listening to reason. Tennis, basically the Fed/Nadal debate is like politics-people become irrational. Then add in Djokovic and people are all out of sorts, barely even acknowledging him.

  5. I didn’t realize Novak had a winning record versus both other guys. I agree Nadal’s clay dominance hurts his greatest ever claim because the numbers are so skewed. I also appreciate you mentioning Masters events as those are even more telling at times than Majors. They show more consistency. I also think they elevate Andy Murray because he’s won several albeit only 3 majors. I’m clearly a Murray fan!

    • You know Murray is an interesting case in terms of all time rankings. As you mentioned if you just go by majors then what’s to distinguish him from Wawrinka? Well 14 I think it is masters wins to Stans 1 or Del Potro’s 1. Murray is similar to Andy Roddick in that if it wasn’t for the 3 greats, he’d be an all time great.

  6. You cannot compare Novak to Roger. Roger has so much grace and a beautiful game. Novak is just a counterpuncher with no real game. Roger is way more accomplished than Novak and is the best ever.

  7. I agree with just about everything you’re saying. The numbers don’t lie although I think he still needs a few more grand slams before I say he’s definitely the GOAT.

  8. Roger won’t even play clay tournaments now because he is scared of Rafa. I think that hurts his legacy and I’d say Rafa is the best ever.

  9. Well said, it’s about time someone gave Djokovic the credit he deserves. His game translates across all surfaces and h’s literally won everything possible in tennis. Rafa and Roger cannot say that.

  10. Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg

    • I was wondering when someone would go old school on me. All respect in the world to the Rocket for winning a Grand Slam and then another pre open era. Borg didn’t stick around long enough or surely he’d have a claim that may be hard to argue.

  11. Interesting observation, very nice article indeed, as an ex tennis player i must disagree, as much as i like djokovic, he is few steps below federers supremacy, its just his universal style of playing is mind blowing, not to mention consistence, i also like to see the big picture od tennis overall throughout history, so its unfair to exclude old school players as lever, bjorg, mcnroe, sampras

    • it’s hard to compare different eras but mcenroe nor sampras ever won a french open or had much success on clay at all. The 3 I mentioned are all contemporaries which is why it’s fun to compare them.

  12. Ryan Michael says

    No one will will argue that Novak is better than Federer. Unless Novak wins 7 more Slams
    Federer is the greatest of all time.

  13. Please stick to travel and not post such a dumb post

  14. Robert Star says

    You make fair points and I too am inclined to agree that Djokovic is and will finish as the GOAT. He has so many facets to his game and when he is on, it is a site to marvel. His tennis is intelligent as well. He is quite the athlete and his peak levels have surpassed even that of Fed or Nadal.

  15. Great article Lee! I am a big Djoker fan so it’s very easy for me to agree with your conclusion. I do agree with the poster above that at least a few more Grand Slams will be required for Djoker to be the clear cut GOAT. One thing that’s pretty clear is that Djoker and Roger are extremely similar with their success on all 3 surfaces. Nadal’s greatness is so concentrated to clay (although he has won the other 3 Slams, 6 in all, which doesn’t measure up to the other two but is still pretty impressive.) The next 6 years or so will settle this argument, if Novak stays healthy over that period he will surely put this debate to rest!

  16. I agree with your breakdown. I have been on Camp Nole for some time. It all started with my despise (don’t get me wrong he is pure genius too) for Nadal. Djoker was the only one who could stop him and Fed hadn’t figured him out. Then I started to notice what Djoker was accomplishing. In this era of Nadal and Fed, he managed to topple them both, at their peaks that too! It is a phenomenal feat that just goes unnoticed and way too underappreciated. Part of it is the lack of indepth knowledge of stats among fans who are just drawn in by Fed’s grace. It helped (and only natural) that he was the first to emerge. Everything just fell in place for him. He had just enough time to grab all those slams before the other two (better players at their peak) started to find their place. At the end of the day slam count speaks to most casual fans and hence it will be a hard sell to convince them about Djokers dominance over Fed etc. They will always use Feds age as an excuse. Hope Djoker can overtake Fed and Nadal and plant himself at the apex of tennis greatness. In my mind, he has already proved himself way above the rest. I am hoping he can grab another French, that too from Nadal. That would be really something. As many slams as they have one, none of them have two of each slam.

    • I’m a firm believer that both Nole and Rafa have shown higher peaks than Fed, thus making them better players. But does that mean they’re better than Federer when time comes into the equation? Federer’s level is so ridiculously high and his game is so complete, you need peak Rafa in 2008 to dethrone him from Wimbledon, and at 37 years of age, he’s taking peak Nole at 31 to tiebreaks. Best of all time, well, includes time. As of 2019, Federer has now survived and thrived in 3 different generations of tennis players, he’s survived changes to tennis technology, and the absolute slowdown and homogenization of all tennis courts. He’s survived the test of time better than both his main rivals, and has been the most consistent of the three over the past 20 years… Again. Time. His peak level in 2017 where he vanquished peak Rafa 4 times was also something to behold, and did a lot to erase doubts in my mind about his mental game. Not to mention the versatility of the man’s game. You can’t honestly say either Rafa or Nole are better at the net than Fed. Or that either player possess a better all court game than Fed, or a more complete game. They just don’t. They’re better counter punchers with games that evolved to neutralize the best attacking tennis we have ever seen. So could Fed be the best of all time for helping create the two best players of all time? It’s hard to pick.

  17. The problem is that the best player ever is an emotional choice, not statistics.
    And we all try to use statistics (the ones that suits us) to convince ourselfs.
    That’s human, that’s fine,
    But if you use statistics , the start should be the definition.
    Then look at the data, and eventually the result.
    What determines the best player ever?
    What is you definition (one that can be measured)?
    So we end up arguing about our personal definition.

    Please think about your definition , I like Djoker a lot, but to come up with a reasonable definition that makes him the best tennis player ever, is very tough.

    Kind Renards,
    Sander

  18. Brennan Sanchez says

    Your post as well as the statistics that you’ve pointed out as your basis of who’s the GOAT in tennis were very accurate and i couldn’t agree more if we talked about analytics. However, don’t forget that there are intangibles as well and the strongest case why Roger Federer is still the GOAT is the fact that he has the most major title wins and he spent the most no. of weeks being the No.1.
    I like your argument about Novak because it’s a pretty strong argument. However, many pundits and sports journalists of today, still consider Roger as the GOAT and Rafa as No.2.. Infact, they have Novak currently at No.3.
    The only legitimate and precise statement that you had in which i totally agree 100% is that the 3 of them clearly are the greatest tennis players of all-time.

  19. This isn’t as clear cut of a case as you make it out to be. Head to head hardly tells the whole story. For example, Djokovic only started beating federer on a consistent basis after Federer had crossed the red line of 30 and his play started to dip. The six year age gap between them is no joke and its part of the reason why Djokovic has dominated their rivalry. In addition, Djokovic reached his peak around the time courts started to slowing down. This benefits Djokovic’s defensive game and minimizes Federer’s more aggressive style of tennis where he seeks to finish points as quickly as possible. Go watch Federer play back in 2003-2007. You’ll notice that the court speeds are faster and thus Federer’s attacking game is unparalleled. His forehand was like a cannon back then and I think could have broken through Djokovic’s defenses. So no, the particular statistics you picked out don’t even come close to telling the whole story. If you’re going to make an argument about who’s the greatest of all time, you need to look at everything and even then it is hard to come up with a definitive answer. Also, let’s be honest here. Djockovic’s brick wall of a game can be just flat out boring to watch. If we’re talking about who has the most entertaining game of all time, Roger takes it by a mile.

    • I never said it was an easy cut and dry, I just made my case

      • “But at this point in time, I don’t see how you can conclude anything else than the greatest of all time is Novak Djokovic.”
        That sounds pretty clear cut, doesn’t it? And the fact that you boiled it all down to a couple of statistics makes it seem like its an easy cut and dry.
        I just pointed out how the case you made isn’t nearly comprehensive or in depth enough to warrant the conclusion you came to.

        • Good valid comment from Drew

        • I have to agree with Drew here. You made a nice case with numbers to back it up, but your conclusion is way too strong for the evidence you presented.
          I personally would make a case for Rafa. His head-to-head vs Federer is more impressive not just by the numbers but also because he started beating Fed during Fed’s peak. On the other hand, Novak’s head-to-head vs Rafa is not dominant at all. In fact, I would argue it’s pretty much a tie. They both lead the other on their preferred surface. Novak leads the overall math-up by 2 because they’ve played more matches on Novak’s preferred surface. Nadal leads on clay 16–7, while Djokovic leads on hard courts 18–7, and they are tied on grass 2–2. And Nadal leads him in Grand Slam Finals 4-3. There’s no advantage Novak here.
          The idea that Nadal’s clay dominance overshadows the rest of his game or discredits his versatility is widely overstated. The man has won a title on all surfaces. He’s been to 5 wimbledon, 4 US open and 2 Australian finals. His winning % in each of the the grand slam tournaments is above 81%. Please also bear in mind that Rafa’s career has been plagued by injury more so than the others. He is the only one of those 3 to win the olympic gold medal in singles – which he won on hard court, btw. At age 32, he’s won the same number of grand slams a Federer did at that age, and he did it against stronger competition. See here for proof: https://www.economist.com/game-theory/2017/09/13/sorry-roger-rafael-nadal-is-not-just-the-king-of-clay

          I think there’s a strong case for Nadal, but it’s hard for me to argue against Federer given the sheer total of titles he has with the consistency and longevity he’s displayed.

          I think both Nadal and Novak have to close the tittles gap before they can claim the GOAT title from Federer. Nadal is closer and I personally feel he is the best player of the three. Also, I’m not sure I’d put Novak over Sampras just yet.

  20. La mia classifica all time è questa :1)federer2)laver3)djokovic4)pancho Gonzales 5)nadal6)rosewall7)sampras8)borg9)kramer10)mcenroe

  21. Tony Laurent says

    Bjorn Borg. He was for sure the coolest tennis champion.

    His record with regard to the competition he faced, standard deviations and the time he played marks him as the best. His mastery on grass and clay – winning the French and Wimbledon within months of each other several times – is without parallel.

    The most accomplished? Well, i guess you can just tot up the number of grand slam titles. But that is not the same as the best.

  22. I personally would make a case for Rafa. His head-to-head vs Federer is more impressive not just by the numbers but also because he started beating Fed during Fed’s peak. On the other hand, Novak’s head-to-head vs Rafa is not dominant at all. In fact, I would argue it’s pretty much a tie. They both lead the other on their preferred surface. Novak leads the overall math-up by 2 because they’ve played more matches on Novak’s preferred surface. Nadal leads on clay 16–7, while Djokovic leads on hard courts 18–7, and they are tied on grass 2–2. And Nadal leads him in Grand Slam Finals 4-3. There’s no advantage Novak here.
    The idea that Nadal’s clay dominance overshadows the rest of his game or discredits his versatility is widely overstated. The man has won a title on all surfaces. He’s been to 5 wimbledon, 4 US open and 2 Australian finals. His winning % in each of the the grand slam tournaments is above 81%. Please also bear in mind that Rafa’s career has been plagued by injury more so than the others. He is the only one of those 3 to win the olympic gold medal in singles – which he won on hard court, btw. At age 32, he’s won the same number of grand slams a Federer did at that age, and he did it against stronger competition. See here for proof: https://www.economist.com/game-theory/2017/09/13/sorry-roger-rafael-nadal-is-not-just-the-king-of-clay

    I think there’s a strong case for Nadal, but it’s hard for me to argue against Federer given the sheer total of titles he has with the consistency and longevity he’s displayed.

    I think both Nadal and Novak have to close the tittles gap before they can claim the GOAT title from Federer. Nadal is closer and I personally feel he is the best player of the 3.

    • Nadal is great and has been great on all surfaces. But clay does overshadow his other performances in my view. Not in a bad way but it ups the ante for other guys. So when Novak beats him 7 times and counting that’s a lot. Their head to head is a relative draw but the numbers are what they are and in the end they’ll work themselves out and I think Djokovic ends up on top.

  23. Funny I used to say if it wasn’t for Federer, Nadal would be talked about as the greatest of all time. Then Novak came to prominence and started winning everything. While I still think Roger is still the greatest, when all three hang it up, I think Novak will be the greatest of all time.

    • The numbers will sort themselves out in the end but it sure of fun to talk about it now that they’re still playing and have resided the bar so much

  24. David Dolinga says

    Djoker Nole G.O.A.T
    Sory Fed. sory Nadal…

  25. Historically, there have never been 3 players that have dominated tennis so thoroughly. Total number of grand slams, 1000 masters and No 1 rankings almost belong to them.
    You can find an argument for each player to be the best and their fans will provide valuable arguments.
    The age difference makes it difficult to make proper assessment. Using time period as a factor we could conclude that in the last two decades Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were the greatest players of all times.

  26. I feel like each of these guys can all be called greatest of all time for their incredible work in popularizing tennis and maintaining such a high skill level throughout the years. Good luck to ever get on their level 🙂

  27. I am personally a Nole fan. And I am thankful for Roger and Nadal pushing him to become what he is. So, I want to add another dimension to this discussion. I listened to Tsitsipas talk about Nadal after losing to him at AU Open, (after beating Federer), and saying how Nadal has an incredible talent to throw you out of rythm and kill your game. Then I’ve listened to commentators a way back saying how Nole is the closest to Superman we’ve ever had. And nothing can be taken away from the great Roger and what he has done for the game. I completely agree that Nole is being understated. Look at what he had to do to get close to these guys and become so successful (keep Murray in mind who is also an amazing player but could not come close to match the success). Someone wrote how Nole is a counterpuncher and boring but dismisses his inteligence, athleticism, iron will (NY 2015), return game (goat), and complete game play and court coverage. In the end these are 3 very different players and all 3 giants of the sport. It has been a pleasure to watch them and I hope we continue to have these great discussions while marveling at what these guys did for the sport. I feel that we would be taking away from this golden era if we ever agreed on who the GOAT is supposed to be. I think it should forever stay undecided and talked about with excitement and pleasure with right to choose who is most dear to us.

    • Great comment and I agree. Plus it’ll all come into view when they’re gone but for now I appreciate them so much as a tennis fan!

      • Let’s not forget that it was Federer who trancend tennis into a whole new global sport, due to his success but mostly his style of play that mezmerises the audience and made regular people interested in the game . His on/off court beahaviour and the way he treats the press also helped to make tennis a more popular sport. I totally agree that it stand between Rog/Rafa and Nole , but whoever will stand with the records by numbers, Fed is the Greatest player ever , everyting around the sport taking in consedaration. To quote Patrick Mouratoglou ” I would pay for a ticket for the rest of my life just to se him play”

    • I agree with lots of you 100 %.
      Federer, Rafa and Novak are the tennis legends and the best of all time.
      Federer has the best records but he is 6 years older than Novak. Rafa is also 1 year older than Novak. 6 years is a long time and Novak can play about 90 -100 more tournaments in that period. So he will have an opportunity to win more big titles.
      Federer did not have a proper competition till Rafa, Novak and Murray arrived. Novak also earned 7 milion more than Federer, and 20 milion more than Rafa.
      Did you see Novak at AO in 2019? I have never seen anyone played tennis at that level ever. Respect to Rafa but he had no chance in the final.
      When Novak is at his best nobody can beat him.
      Everyone is comparing the records and statistics now. Well, lets wait 6 more years and then compare it.

  28. To understand tennis just by the fact that someone has defeated his opponent more number of times is questionable. In fact, the GOAT must be considered by also taking into account the longevity and the competitiveness of the individual player. In that case you must only consider Federer and Nadal and among the two, only time will tell who would be the best. And in my opinion it’s always Federer. He adds beauty to the sport when he’s on court. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. One can simply watch him play all day. Neither Nadal or Djokovic can play tennis as effortlessly and gracefully as Federer. Like you said, truth always hurts. To conclude that Djokovic is the GOAT is too early. Let’s see if he can grab a grand slam at 36 and prove that he is a contender

  29. To understand tennis just by the fact that someone has defeated his opponent more number of times is questionable. In fact, the GOAT must be considered by also taking into account the longevity and the competitiveness of the individual player. In that case you must only consider Federer and Nadal and among the two, only time will tell who would be the best. And in my opinion it’s always Federer. He adds beauty to the sport when he’s on court. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. One can simply watch him play all day. Neither Nadal or Djokovic can play tennis as effortlessly and gracefully as Federer. Like you said, truth always hurts. To conclude that Djokovic is the GOAT is too early. Let’s see if he can grab a grand slam at 36 and prove that he is a contender.

  30. I agree with Lee 100 %. I am Novak’s fan and I love tennis and have a great respect for Federer and Rafa. All 3 are real tennis kings and tennis legends, no doubt about that.
    Well, the question here is who is the GOAT?
    Federer is 6 years older than Novak and 5 years older than Rafa. Rafa is 1 year older than Novak.
    Federer did not have a proper competition till Rafa and Novak arrived. So it was much easier for Federer. Novak had much harder job, don’t forget that Murray was there too.
    From 2011 Novak won 14 Grand Slam titles and Federer, Rafa and Murray combined won 15 titles.
    Novak has 6 more years to play, he plays about 17 or 18 tournaments per year so that is about 90 more matches as he will miss few of them.
    When Novak is at his best nobody can beat him. Did you see him at the AO on 2019? I have never seen tennis at that level ever. Respect to Rafa but he looked like an amateur in that game.
    In terms of records and statistics lets wait another 6 years and then compare them.

  31. totally agree, 100%. big tennis fan here. grew up in the 70’s watching Connors, Borg and then Johnnie Mac. then Lendl took over the 80’s, Sampras and Agassi in the 90’s. But yes, the 3 best of all time playing right now. and yes, for me Djokovic gotta be rated the best for his record against Federer and Nadal. I agree with your argument precisely on every point, so much so, I could have written it ! If Djokovic picks up a few more majors, everyone will come around and agree he is the GOAT. And by the way, at their best, in their respective prime, I take Nadal over Federer as number 2 of all time, for the same reason, head to head record, including majors. My favorite and possibly the most skilled, certainly the most entertaining, Johnny Mac in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

    • In the end it’ll all even out more or less and then there will be some definitive numbers but right now I’d probably agree. Although I struggle with Nadal being ahead of Federer although I know he’s beat him up pretty good because it’s so clay heavy. But he still beat him all but twice and he never lost in 5 times at RG. Single biggest argument against Federer-never even took him to 5 in Paris. It’s fun to argue about though!

  32. Tanvir Ahmad says

    Lee,
    Thanks for wonderful analysis and you made some good points, however i dont agree that Novak is GOAT for the following reasons.
    1. Federer beat Novak who was at his ABSOLUTE peak in French Semi of 2011 and Wimb Semi of 2012. Federer could easily retire then on 17 slams with a 15-12 H2H advantage. So a Federer who peaked in 2007 was still able to beat a PEAK Novak about 4 or 5yrs after his prime and despite being 5yrs older in what became a very physical baseline game after 2008. There is no evidence and highly likely that Novak would compete like that if both were same age or Novak was 5yrs older.
    2. Federer still leads Novak by 5 slams and at current rate, Novak needs to win 2 slams a year for next 3 yrs to surpass Roger. Highly unlikely as injuries/motivation and next generation can take effect as was case in 2016-2017. Novak will not get any younger and is nearly 32.
    3. Federer is better than Nadal on Grass(2-1) and Hard Court(11-9) whilst Nadal is dominant on Clay(13-2). So clearly Federer is better overall. Its been 5yrs since Nadal last beat Federer and 5 successive losses(3 in straight sets) despite Federer being well into his 30s and 5yrs older than Nadal. Thats simply amazing. Imagine what their H2h would be if they played 15 times on Grass like they have on Clay??
    4. Federer is the only guy from this trio who has beaten multiple GS champions in GS matches across 3 eras ie
    (Agassi/Sampras), (Roddick/Safin/Hewit) (Nadal, Djoko, Murray)
    5. Federer has dominated 3GS and only man to win at least 5 majors in 3 different slams. Novak and Rafa have only dominated one slam each ie French and Aus.

    • Well thought out argument but I don’t buy into when who beat who. They’re the top 3 players basically every year for the last 12 years or so. Djokovic’s absolute peak was when he won 4 straight slams in 2015+. He also beat Federer in 2 Wimbledon finals and a US final. Federer only beat him in 1 ever-his first ever in 2007. You can frame these types of arguments however you want and we all do it depending who our favorite guy is. My favorite is Federer without a doubt. But my argument made in the article is based on facts, not emotion. Not to mention, in the end time will tell but I think Djokovic if healthy beats all Federer’s records I’d be chooses to. He lost motivation once so we shall see. If he wins French this year let’s see if he reverses what happened in 2016.

  33. Tanvir ahmad says

    Lee,
    Let me make things a bit easier for you dude. Lets put our amateur analysis aside for a minute aswell as all the stats.
    Some of the all time greats like Borg, Laver and Navratilva have regularly stated that Federer is the GOAT. Guess what, a guy called Djokovic only as recently as Cincinatti last year stated that Federer is GOAT. Not to mention many players in current era who played all 3 claim that Federer is GOAT(Kyrgios is 3-3 and 2-0 against Rafa and Novak respectively and claims Federer is GOAT. He is 1-4 against him).
    Now convince me for a minute that all these players know nothing about the game or stats like H2h when they claim Fed is GOAT???
    Should we believe analysis of amateurs like ourself or these greats who played, watched and analysed the game for last 3 decades???

    • Of course Novak and other contemporaries will say he’s the best; at this point he probably is but when taking age and making projections in addition to the statistics I’ve provided, that’s why I’ve concluded what I have. And as I said, I’m a Federer fan! Again…time will tell.

  34. Tanvir ahmad says

    Lee,
    What you also need to understand is that Greatness in any sport isnt just about records and titles or meaningless H2h stats. Sorry but H2H is inconclusive as it does matter when, where and whom you played and at what age. Novak avoided Federer at least 3 times in 2017 whereas Nadal didnt and we saw the results.
    Greatness is also a measure of Style, Longevity, Fan following, Humility, Dignity, Class and how much you are as an ambassador to the sport. Sorry but Novak doesnt even come close to Federer in this department. Mayweather has better records than Ali in boxing but nobody in the right mind calls Mayweather the GOAT ahead of Ali. Hope you get my point.

    • I understand what you’re saying but Djokovic is a pretty good ambassador in and of himself. He’s won the Laureus award several times like Federer. Rafa is as well. That argument doesn’t hold weight so much as Federer by nature of being older alone having a few years to build up before the other really arrived has always overshadowed the other 2 guys. I don’t disagree with what you’re arguing but that doesn’t conclude the greatest. Barry Bonds was an asshole, but he’s still the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen and probably the 2nd greatest ever after babe Ruth. Jeter was a great ambassador but nobody will say he’s the greatest ever.

    • I appreciate the well thought out, excellent comments though…thanks.

  35. Tanvir ahmad says

    Hey Lee,
    Its a fun debate with a person who knows his stuff and very constructive. Despite being a Federer fan, i would not be a true Tennis fan if i didnt admit or appreciate that Novaks peak has been higher than Fedal. You see its all about scoreboard pressure as Fed has 5 more slams, one more Atp finals and is looking good for a 6th Indian Wells at the ripe age of 37. Novak has it all to do and realistically needs to match those numbers in next 2yrs due to fitness and motivational challenges. I expect Novak to win US open again this year and Fedal to mop up on Clay and Grass. Thats my projection as Federer is looking awesome since Dubai.
    Not sure if Novak is a great ambassasor though as he breaks racquets regularly, bullies ball boys, has rants with crowd and if that wasnt bad enough he just ousted Chris Kemode, ATP chief against wishes of Fedal and many other players.

    • We shall see…he’s gotta beat Nadal to win IW. I surely wouldn’t just assume he wins Wimbledon. Nobody can beat Novak if he’s hot and I expect this loss to motivate him and I expect him to give Rafa a run on clay as well. Be fun to watch!

  36. TANVIR AHMAD says

    Roger will smash Rafa in straight sets if they meet in IW semis. It will be a repeat dose of 2017 as Rafa cant hurt Roger anymore with his forehand and there is no mental block anymore. Its Rafa now who is scared to face Roger on HC.
    The balls at Wimbledon last year were bouncing high like on Clay. This was pointed out by Laver and Navratilova, hence why Nadal had a good run. Form and fitness can hit Novak anytime so lets see how fresh he is to take on Rafa on Clay. Novak has won 3 slams in a row so its very tough to maintain that level unless some Meladonium is involved ?

  37. Brajesh Nath says

    I could agree with you. Yes! Novak does have a case in terms of H2H over these two guys. Well presented piece actually. Besides, when he is on song, he is definitely mentally unbeatable. So, it is . But the debate is not just about numbers or wins. It is also about consistency, skills, adaptability and being well rounded in terms of quality of play. Here Fedex is definitely head and shoulders above the rest of the two. His all court game, volleying skills, net play, elegance of shot making and effortlessness with which he plays make him out to be a natural. He is undoubtedly the gifted one. This is not to discount the hard work, training regimen and countless hours of practice devoted by Novak and Rafa. But they are limited in their approach but definitely with bigger motivation and killer mentality than Roger. Its hard to find anyone more competitive and determined than Rafa. So, for Novak whose killer instincts and ruthless stroke play bear the signature of a champion.

  38. Michael. Johnson. says

    I would like to say if we add the Olympics and doubles Nadal has the most major titles. I think all the statistics should count. I think when all is said and done Federer will be in third place in major titles. Djokovic baring injury will pass Federer\’s weeks at number 1 in 2020. Djokovic will also be the first person to win all 4 grand slams 2 or more times. Novak is the best of this era that being said there is no G.O.A.T. In order for a player to be labeled with such a grandiose title we would all have to agree to that fact. The fact that we are debating these three great players proves it. No G.O.A.T.

  39. Tanvir ahmad says

    Lee,
    I just heard Wawrinka say yesterday that Roger is the GOAT. He is a guy who beat all top 3 in Grand Slams and played them a combined 71 times so in a good place to judge.
    Roger had a brilliant HC swing in Dubai and US and further stamped his authority on GOAT status. You have to admit that Nadal didnt fancy playing him at INdian Wells or Miami and was keen to ensure his H2H with Roger isnt impacted more. So funny how soon he gets fit for Clay. Novak is looking worn out after a 3 slam run(same happened in 2012 and 2016), but its funny how people are so ignorant and start thinking Novak will just turn up and win all the AtP masters and Slams. Trust me he is still very far away from beating Rogers GS tally or being classed the GOAT. I fancy Nadal/Thiem for French, Roger for Wimby and Novak has to really discover his form and motivation if he wants another 2 slam year.

  40. tanvir ahmad says

    “Roger Federer is the greatest of all time, but also he’s not as good as Nadal or Djokovic.

    How does that make sense, you ask? It doesn’t! It doesn’t, but it’s also completely true. He’s an unbelievable champion the likes of which the sport has never seen before and may never see again, but at the peak of his powers, he wasn’t as good as his two main rivals—as the record shows.”

    Interesting analysis by a writer…..

  41. Tanvir ahmad says

    Lee,
    You said last month that Rafa wont avoid Roger or run scared of him. Please convince us all how this wasnt the case at Indian Wells???. Didnt Isner play Roger in Miami final despite injury? Didnt Roger play Cincinatti final last year and was a shadow of himself with return game due to wrist injury.
    Anyway its still 6 losses in a row for Rafa against a Roger who is in his late 30s??. Thats how you define a GOAT as Nadal is more likely to have a fishing rod in his hands at 37 than a tennis racquet. ? Roger just wants to payback Novak once more before he retires and Wimbledon might be the place this year to show the Djoker who the true GOAT is.

  42. Hello,
    I started watching Tennis since mid 90s, and to be honest it’s hard to compare based on number of GS titles, for instance when it comes to Federer in 2004, hewitt Roddick, ferero were good, but not legends, he used to finish the season winning 80 games and losing 2-3… and Then I agree with you that things has changed when Nadal And Djoko were able to rebalance things. But what I want to highlight is that there is only 3 great players, and this new generation is faaaar behind.. Zverev and thiem are good, but not good enough. If you go back to 90s, Sampras played against ( AGASSI, JIM COURRIER, EDBERG, Willander, Becker, Lendl and many others), and all these players were very good, despite that he was able to win 14 GS and retired at 32 we he won the US open and proved to everyone that he cant still win. he could have got even more. Another fact is that Tennis Become very slow, and Tennis players like Nadal and DJOKO are taking advantage from that more than Rodger since they can catch most of the Balls. Honestly I prefer late 90s Tennis where there was Volley players( SAMPRAS, Becker rafter), great defenders ( Chang Agassi) or …

  43. Gregory B Burton says

    Forget titles and all that stuff, Federer can do things with a tennis ball on the court that noone can and probably will ever be able to do. Fed is also the smartest , most clever entertaining and dynamic player ever. Lets face it, Nadal and the Joker are just players who play great defense and can chase down every shot; they’re nowhere near the class of a Federer..

    • That’s not even remotely true.

      • Gregory B Burton says

        What’s not remotely true? There’ve been complete tennis highlight reels made using Federer shots, the “no look drop shot”, the “running tweener”, the “half volleys, oh! the half volleys”, the stab volleys, the “drop shot 8 feet behind the base line”, the squash shot from the baseline on the run with your back to the net, the “hands”, an entire tennis move named after him (the “SABR”)
        Yes Rafa has made some great shots, yes Djoker has played some amazing back hand returns, but Federer makes even the best players look like amateurs.
        Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot…”are you kidding me!”, “STOP IT!!!!

  44. It takes more then just titles to make you the greatest player ever.I feel Rafa is the greatest player.His 11 French Open titles (soon to be 12) is a record that may never be broken.Also,he is the only one of the three who has a golden slam. he is the most exciting player to watch because he has the ability to over-come any obstacle that is put in front of him.He plays the first point of each match like it was a 5th set tiebreak.He is respectful and humble at the same time.He is a true champion!!!!!!

    • Gregory B Burton says

      Yes you are right, Rafa is true champion and a great human being full stop….but Federer is the greatest tennis player EVER! I was just looking at some of his (Fed’s) highlights of just his “half volleys” from 10 years ago. NOONE I mean NOONE has even come close to those skills, even with today’s technological advancements in racquets etc.. When Kyrios, Jim Courier, Johnny Mc (and Patrick for that matter) and LAVER , LAVER no less, says you”re the greatest, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Come on, let’s end this debate! Fed is beyond the greatest he’s the ….Uh! NO WAY! Stop it! Now that’s ridiculous! …..you get my drift!

  45. Gregory B Burton says

    Yes you are right, Rafa is true champion and a great human being full stop….but Federer is the greatest tennis player EVER! I was just looking at some of his (Fed’s) highlights of just his “half volleys” from 10 years ago. NOONE I mean NOONE has even come close to those skills, even with today’s technological advancements in racquets etc.. When Kyrios, Jim Courier, Johnny Mc (and Patrick for that matter) and LAVER , LAVER no less, says you”re the greatest, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Come on, let’s end this debate! Fed is beyond the greatest he’s the ….Uh! NO WAY! Stop it! Now that’s ridiculous! …..you get my drift!

    • I mean all the top guys have amazing highlight films. That’s not a good determining factor on who the best ever is. Even marginal guys will have a great highlight film. The bottom line is we’re talking about the 3 Best ever and in 5-6 years we’ll have a more definitive answer based on numbers. Although I’m sure everyone will argue based on their personal favorite. Mine is Federer but I still think Djokovic will end up at the top. Although I hope I’m wrong!

  46. Tanvir ahmad says

    Lee,
    I think you are really having a laugh if you think that Novak will just keep turning up and winning Slams for next 3yrs and overtake Federers GS tally. I will tell you here and now and quote me at the end of the year that Novak is looking totally smoked at the moment and struggling to even reach finals of ATP events. Right now, he is neither favourite for French or Wimbledon and will need to really rediscover his form, motivation and aura to win US open where i still think he will be one of the favourites.
    Nextgen are not scared of him anymore and Batista Agut is beating him for fun. Basically Nadal and Djoko have more mileage in their legs than Federer despite being 5yrs younger so dangerous to assume they will keep playing for another 3 yrs let alone winning Slams. Its more likely they will be holding fishing rods in their hand at 35 rather than tennis racquets?.
    Federer will win another Wimbledon, Rafa maybe another French and a couple more for Novak before they are done by the end of 2020. Sorry but your claims that Novak is already the GOAT were very premature and not realising how physical this sport is now and that you need to be superhuman and have a fluid style to play like Federer is at the age of 37.

  47. John T Sanders says

    Come on, neither Nadal nor Djokovic have highlight reels as long or as good or as varied as Federer. Just on the spectacle front alone, Federer is tops. No one has ever been as simultaneously dominant and beautiful a player as Federer (few athletes in any sport have been). Still, I agree on two things: 1) Djokovic at his peak was better than anyone else at their peak, and 2) Djokovic might go on to have better overall stats than Federer. Djokovic is amazing, yes. But he\’s amazing in basically the same way as Floyd Mayweather, which is to say mostly boring. Meanwhile Roger Federer IS everything about tennis, personified.

    And on the stats front, if you asked someone who knew nothing about tennis to go to Wikipedia\’s ATP Open Era Records page and just try to figure out who\’s the best ever, they\’d come back with Federer. There are just SO MANY Swiss flags at or near the top of SO many record lists:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Era_tennis_records_%E2%80%93_men%27s_singles

    Nadal shouldn\’t even be a legitimate contender for the best ever. The clay thing is so lopsided—more than 70% of his titles have come on clay! Plus he has the opportunity to play at least 4 major tournaments a year on his best surface, whereas Federer only gets to play 1. That\’s a much more illuminating \”if only\” conversation than the \”if only Nadal hadn\’t been injured\” one. Durability is part of an athlete\’s legacy.

  48. I agree. The weeks at Number 1 is also an important statistic, but it is clear that Novak will draw closer by the end of this year, to at least number 3. This will be an even stronger case to take Raga out of the discussion of GOAT. Meanwhile if Novak wins the French, he will become only the second player to hold all four titles at the same time twice, the other being Laver.

  49. DonGorila says

    I can see Novak dethroning Roger eventually (and I wouldn’t dislike that, he’s a fantastic player and a nice guy), but I think it’s still too soon.
    As others said, RF still holds the most GS titles and the most weeks at the top spot -consecutive or otherwise-, and his other relevant records are either greater (consecutive GS semifinals & finals, most titles overall), equal (year-end finals), or close to Novak’s (winning % vs top-10 players, masters 1000 titles, etc.). The fact that Roger is top-3 at 37 years of age, and way past his prime, also speaks in his favor.
    The Novak-Roger H2H is way too close to justify Novak’s GOAT crown on its own (it’s just a 3 title difference). Novak’s positive record against Rafa is also a valid point, but I still think it is not enough to cancel out Roger’s other advantages over Novak (+5 majors, +50 weeks at N°1, +30 titles).

  50. Why is no one mentioning the fact that Roger is only down on the h2h with Djokovic because of age and he is only down on the h2h with Rafa because of the amount of matches they played on clay in Rafa’s prime? Roger used to beat Djokovic all the time when they were younger and he was in his prime. Yes, Novak was young but would you rather be a young, hungry talent with a load of potential and all the right physical abilities to win (young Djokovic vs prime Roger), or an old, slower legend, 10 years past his prime lacking the abilities he used to have (old Roger vs prime Djokovic). Their rivalry is just based on age. Look at how Roger destroyed prime Djokovic at Cincinnati 2012 when he was Novak’s age now. I cannot see 32 year old Novak being able to have done that to Roger in his prime. They just played more matches in Novak’s prime. Easy as that. Roger = GOAT because he was the most dominant player of all time. Only picked up 12 losses over 3 seasons combined at one point. That is insane

    • I don’t necessarily buy the prime argument with these guys because they’re still 1-2-3 in the world and essentially have been for 11-12 years and Roger and Rafa longer than that. I also think if we’re talking primes that Novak’s prime was better than Rogers and nobody is a bigger Fed fan than me. Nadal even days that when Novak is on nobody can beat him. That said, in the end it’ll all even out and we can have some clarity on the question but it sure is fun to watch. Also, yes roger always lost on clay to Rafa hence the disparity but they still played the matches and he’s only won 2 of them total. That’s not a lot.

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