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. But who is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time?

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, etc. I also know that Rod Laver won a Grand Slam or 2, Pete Sampras won 14 majors, players didn’t really start playing at the Australian Open until the mid/late 80’s and it appears 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, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic

When you examine these hard numbers you have to look a little closer at them and put some context to them. Roger Federer is 4.5 and 5.5 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. Roger’s greatest strength is and has been his incredible consistency throughout his career.

While Nadal has always been incredibly consistent winning the French Open an incomprehensible 12 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 26-23 overall, 14-6 in all Finals, 5-3 in Masters Finals and 4-1 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 has beaten Federer three times in the Wimbledon final without losing one to him. This is a very significant thing because Federer is widely considered the greatest grass court player ever. That said, he has only beaten Djokovic once at Wimbledon in a 2012 semifinal-never when it’s meant the most.

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.

While most of their matches over the years have been very competitive, none have been better than the 2019 Wimbledon final. In my opinion, it’s the greatest match I’ve ever seen and in the end, Djokovic prevailed as he has so often in the biggest matches versus Federer.

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 12 titles and only lost 2 matches since 2005. Federer never beat Nadal at the French Open in 6 opportunities including 4 finals along with two semifinals.

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.

These two guys play a similar style of baseline counter-punching. This has produced some of the greatest matches in tennis history. Their 2012, nearly 6-hour Australian Open final to me is one of the top 2-3 greatest matches ever played-surely the most physical match I’ve ever seen. Every match is a battle and a pleasure to watch.

Advantage Djokovic

Nadal vs Federer

Nadal leads 24-16 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 0-6 at the French and only 2-7 in clay Finals and 2-14 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 6 of the last 7 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.

These two have played some great matches over the years including 5 set finals in the 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon finals. The 2008 match is widely considered the greatest match ever although I think the 2019 final eclipsed it. Their 2009 and 2017 Australian Open finals were also great and they’ve had some great Masters matches as well. Their 2006 Rome final, although not a major, was beyond words epic, although in the end, as usual, Nadal won on clay.

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 and has been unbelievably consistent for nearly 20 years. But his inability to beat Rafael Nadal consistently and basically at all on clay hurts his case massively. How can you be the best of all-time if you cannot beat your biggest rival at Roland Garros in 6 tries especially when Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon and took him to 5 another time. He’s also 1-4 versus Djokovic in major 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 84 titles, 60 are on clay. Of his 19 majors, 12 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 29-18 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 three times in the final 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 will likely add to their numbers. But at this point in time, I believe that the greatest of all time is Novak Djokovic although this could seemingly change with every tournament.

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.

      • Exactly, Federer is GOAT until somebody overtakes his major count. That is the agreed upon tennis GOAT benchmark.

      • Roger Federer and Jack Nicklaus are the Goats!
        20 Grand Slams for Roger!!
        18 Majors for Jack, plus 19 second place finishes!!!

    • 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!

        • jack lemmon says

          I found the article hardly biased and twisting facts. Like when a politician is showing off a graph about the socioeconomic development of a country. While I regard Federer the GOAT, it may actually feels like we are in a case of A>B>C (but with C>A!). You see tennis lacks transitive relationship …
          Going for the stats, since it seems is the only thing that matters in your article: where are gold medals? how does Nole has an advantage over Nadal (widey even H2H, neutral in finals, but less GS, less Masters1000, no gold medals). As i said, just like a politician … (you must be Nole’s cousin, Serbian or who really knows 🙂

          • Gold medals are pretty irrelevant in my book. It’s once every four years. But if you want to throw that in go for it. Still doesn’t tip the scales for Nadal.

            Numbers aren’t biased, they’re the most simplistic way to measure the accomplishments of these 3 greats. I’m a Federer fan, have been for 17 years now. But projecting with Noles age and what he’s already done, it’s hard to think he won’t eclipse it all and his numbers as I’ve shown are right there with and in many cases better than the other 2, especially head to head.

          • @jack lemmon
            So, for you if someone has 4 gold medals, and 0 Grand Slams, 0 Masters, he is the GOAT?
            If you want to rank something, you have to quantify everything, otherwise its only matter of taste.

        • jack lemmon says

          Claiming to be fact-focused, you hardly did anything to rebate my arguments. As I said, just get the same feeling as before: the twisted politician example. Back lets go back to the facts …

          – FACT1: “gold medals are pretty irrelevant in my book. it is once every four years” pretty strong argument. you probably wished your book was as half as relevant as wining an olympic bronze …
          – FACT2: once again, H2H Nadal/Nole is even in M1000 and GS finals. 28-26, is that your deciding factor? there is no domination, as you could see in the other two pairs. Plus the trophy count clearly in favour of Nadal: +GS, +Masters1000, (and yes two Gold Medals)
          – FACT3: “But projecting with Noles age and what he’s already done” Wait there, the debate is who is the GOAT today! Who knows what the future will bring … there may be injuries, wars, accidents, new players, infidelities. Clearly, you may agree that your projections are not a FACT just mere conjecture.

          all in all a disguised Djokovich supporter

          • I’ll give it a try, a few months late:
            –Nadal has barely more titles than Djokovic at the Masters and Grand Slam level, but I’ll still give him those advantages.
            –Nadal has had Olympics success.

            But beyond that, it looks pretty bad for Nadal:
            –Djokovic has a stronger head-to-head. Yes, it is close, but you can’t count the slight edge in Masters and Grand Slam titles as important factors but then discount Djokovic’s slight edge in head-to-head. Better is better.
            –World Tour Finals performance, which is above Masters in importance and is arguably more meaningful than the Olympics as a measure of tennis skill against the field (every year, only top eight players vs. every four years, country-by-country representation), is heavily in Djokovic’s favor, 5-0.
            –Nadal has much less surface variety in his titles. Djokovic has won all nine Masters titles and Nadal is still missing two. I’d also point out that Nadal’s inconsistency on grass and hard courts makes the head-to-head advantage for Djokovic even more meaningful.
            –Nadal is way behind on weeks at number one, which is a key measure of consistency.
            –Nadal never held all four titles at once. Djokovic did.
            –Djokovic’s ELO peak score, which roughly measures not just winning but quality of winning, is much higher than Nadal’s peak.

            So, you’re basically grabbing a few metrics that give Nadal an edge and ignoring all the others. You might not like the twisted politician, but you’re definitely doing that. Literally the only things Nadal has above every tennis player is the number of masters 1000 titles (an edge of just one on that) and the strongest manifestation ever of single-surface dominance.

          • Right now I think that the GOAT race is more open than it ever was before. Nadal with 19 wins is only one slam trophy behind Federer’s record of 20 slams, and Djokovic is breathing into the neck of both rivals with a count of 16 majors. And all GOAT candidates have now finished the season five times ranked as No 1. By winning another slam on hardcourt and ending the decade on the pole position again, just as he started the decade in 2010, Nadal has made a big statement in his favor. But the differences between the three players are really small.
            I agree with those who have complained that the author of this article is somewhat (although not heavily) biased towards Djokovic. I have seen equally valid statistics which take into account overall winning percentages and in how many major tournaments the player has even participated as well as their head-to-head in slam matches. And these stats definitely influence the outcome towards one or the other player. I also strongly disagree that the Olympics don’t count! I think that the three GOAT candidates themselves would strongly disagree with that assessment, lol, since each player did everything in his power to participate multiple times and give himself at least the chance to win a gold medal! Federer may have even postponed his retirement in order to play one more Olympic tournament. And except for Nadal, who was hurt in 2012, all three participated at all Olympic tournaments since the 2008 Olympics. Therefore the goldmedal win is very relevant for the GOAT discussion. Just because the author deems that tournament irrelevant, this doesn’t become an agreed upon fact. Personally I would say that an Olympic gold medal definitely weighs more than a very small head-to-head advantage, like Djokovic’s slight lead of two wins over Nadal, since the Olympic gold medal is the result of a whole tournament and not just one match. Btw, Nadal beat Djokovic on his way to that precious medal in 2008. And I bet that Djokovic would gladly trade his slim head-to-head advantage over Nadal for that one gold medal?
            Since the margins are so small atm, I agree that the overall slam haul still slightly favors Federer as of now. But that might change quickly. I would not be surprised at all if Nadal catches up or even overtakes Federer in the coming two seasons. And if he really manages to do that, I think the argument that Federer is still the sole GOAT is hard to maintain. And as far as Djokovic is concerned, since he is the youngest of the Big Three and less injury prone than Nadal and also is less specialized than Nadal, which gives him more chances at the majors, I think he has an excellent chance to become the overall GOAT. But he isn’t there, yet and he knows it.
            My prediction is that after all is said and done Djokovic will win the GOAT race with Nadal being a close second. However, my wish is that is will be a dead race and all three will end up with 20 slam trophies. What these guys have done is simply mindboggling and the statistics aren’t really favoring strongly one or the other. We are nitpicking in order to support our various arguments. In my mind they will go down as the Three GOATS!

      • Sachin Wandhare says

        Very well researched with statistics written article. Statistics prove Novak is GOAT. Arguments regarding other player is only love for particular player. We know love is blind. Fans are leaving in their own world without considering the logic of reality. I agree on your comments and appreciate well researched article. Thanks for showing people reality

    • Federer and Nadal never won four Grand Slams in a row, and Novak did.
      Federer and Nadal didn’t win every masters tournament, and Novak did.
      Nadal has Olympic gold and Novak still don’t.
      Novak has an advantage over both of them Head to Head.

      I think he clearly deserves to be best, at least by a small margin – over Federer and Nadal, which without a doubt are greatest tennis players.

    • Terri Vilardi says

      Truth!
      Roger is older than them. Of course he is going to get beat by them towards the end of his career. He is still hanging tough against them though, that says a lot!!! If he was the same age as them he would be killing them! Secondly, when Roger retires it clears up a whole lot of space for Novak and The joker to rack up the extra titles. I will give all three props as the 3 best of all time, but no one plays tennis as beautiful as the Maestro.

  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.

          • Janios Quintana says

            How many weeks in the last 10 yeas each players was out for injuries?.

          • Terri Vilardi says

            The number won’t mean anything if Roger is no longer in the mix.
            If you didn’t have to beat him to earn your titles than you are not playing with the three greatest players of all time. When Roger leaves, of course it will be easier. The same would go for all of them. If any one of them leave they would all have 3/4 more major titles. So once Fed retires. It’s game over. No comparison anymore.

          • Terri Vilardi by that logic you can’t then count Federer’s early years before Novak came to scene. He won 11 GS during that time. There’s no comparison either.

        • 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.

    • That’s a really well thought out comment. Thanks for taking the time to formulate rational thoughts backed up with hard numbers or at least reasonable opinions. You’re clearly a tennis person!

    • joe v says if you ever picked up a tennis racquet you would know what Roger Federer can do on a court is absolutely mind boggling I don’t care if he never won a major he is by far a million times more talented than anyone ever to play the game! He could win a five set match in 100 degree temperatures and wear the same shirt to go out to dinner! I honestly don’t know if his sneakers ever touch the court! He is so good it’s scary and not to take away from his rivals but he is so much fun to watch can hit any shot and ones he makes up while his rivals are so one dimensional they remind me of Ivan Lendl machines that beat the hell out of themselves as was the case with Thomas Muster before his unfortunate accident!! Last note Bjorn Borg would be second on my list incredible player who also made the game look effortless which could not be farther from the truth!

  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.

    • I was just saying that on Facebook except I wouldn’t say Rafa is best ever, clay yes

      • Chris Pratt says

        So I think the number that in both men and women is the grand slamI am a Sampras fan and now nasal fan but roger has 20 majors and until that changes I feel we have to go by that feat that is what history will look at not all the other numbers

    • Terri vilardi says

      But he was in the semi finals with RaFa this year after not playing clay for years, but Roger still makes it
      To semifinals at that point 37 now 38. Come on!!
      Give him a break.

  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.

    • Terri Vilardi says

      Roger still had to conquer the greats and put them to bed before he himself became great!!no one has retired him because they could not take him all the way down. That is how the changing of the guard works the only problem is no one changed the guard. Roger plays on with his young rivals all the way to his graceful exit from tennis as the greatest player of all time, seconded by Novak and 3rd by Nadal.

  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.

        • Wilbert Grimley says

          Had to scroll this far down for someone to finally mention that merely using head to head stats is not nearly valid enough of a data pool to determine the goat. You have to take so much more into consideration.

  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”

        • It would be great to compare them at different age… 32 being the last year I think Djokovic has the least attractive game of the three and until he surpasses the other two in GS it’s going to be hard to convince the mass that he is one of the GOATs much less the GOAT.

    • 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 think people are emotional as RF is in his last phase of his career. That’s why right now they won’t digest the fact that anyone is greater than RF. Maybe when Djoker reaches in his retirement phase then these people will realise and support what Djoker has achieved.

    • 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.

    • A withdrawal isn’t a loss

      • Tanvir ahmad says

        Lee, now you are being silly my friend. A withdrawl indeed counts as a loss so please go and check the H2h records and it reads 23-16 in favour of Nadal now. Novak also had a walkover over Federer in 2012 Atp final. Its daft to think a withdrawl doesnt count as a loss, so who progressed to Indian Wells final with Thiem if withdrawl doesnt count as a loss?? ??

      • Terri Vilardi says

        Can you please post how many times each player has retired in the middle of a match.
        Roger retired 0 times in his entire career. That is Nada never once.

        RaFa and Novak have like 10 retirements or more each because when they start to lose they quit like babies.
        That is one of many reasons that Roger is the GOAT.

        We can go on and on and on about all these little nuances. Sure Novak beat Roger at Wimbledon, but only by a hair. After Roger (38) just finished beating Nadal two days prior. That is certainly not domination by Nike in any way shape or form. That is why you can not say someone is the greatest player of all time by statistics alone. The reason people mention his age because anyone who has approached 40 knows the body changes and you don’t recover as quickly. So it is admirable.

  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!!!!

    • Marcelo Rios’ game was prettier

  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.

  51. I’ve read many analysis and I think what most people miss is that each player has one surface which suits that player the most. Unfortunately for Rafa that surface has been clay which is totally different from hard and grass courts which are usually fast. But even there he has done better (2 W: 3 US: 1 AO: + multiple finals) than what Novak and Roger have done on clay.

  52. John Elkaz says

    The GOAT argument clearly establishes one thing: there are normal tennis fans and then a bunch of idol worshippers who act almost like soccer hooligans. Can we at least agree that it is very close between the three? As a Novak fan, I have no problems saying that Federer is the greatest at this point, and deservedly so. But I do believe, and belief is not a fact, that Novak has a more than good chance to overtake Roger as the GOAT.

    As for intangibles, how about this one: the affect of popularity on performance?
    Not only is Novak the least popular and has to battle the crowd almost everywhere he plays, except China, sometimes the anti Novak sentiment is so brutal, like the New York crowd in a match against Federer, that it borders on disgusting. When the crowd cheers a Novak double fault like it was a winning goal at the World Cup, but then stays absolutely silent when Novak hits a jaw-dropping winner, then you have to ask yourself how Federer and Nadal\’s careers would have evolved if they had faced the same hateful support almost everywhere they played? The emotional bias against Djokovic borders on obscenity sometimes even amongst tennis commentators, who at the Australian Open stayed silently dumbfounded as Novak absolutely destroyed Roger in the first two sets, much like the crowd did, as though someone had killed their dog or destroyed their house. Privately, I love Novak\’s ability to piss on everyone\’s parade in such moments, much like he did this year at the Australian Open.
    So, how does Novak perform in places where he has equal or slightly better support than Roger and Rafa?
    Look at Beijing and Shanghai. The point is that Novak is one gritty fighter almost always fighting multitude opponents and so must be taken seriously in the GOAT debate, even if it is still too early to proclaim the winner among the three greatest of all time. As for the fans, you could argue that Roger Fans are also the greatest of all time, but not in a category you would like to hear. Rafa fans at least applaud great shots by Novak and can appreciate a capable opponent.

    • Thanks for a well laid out, sensible opinion that I agree with. I am a Fed fan but as I wrote, I think Novak will eclipse him and there are arguments that he already has. But it’ll all be sorted out. I think Djoker uses a lot of the things you mentioned as motivation as well.

  53. An American physicist has used analytical data on computers to create a ranking system for the greatest male players of all time. And according to this system, the No. 1 player in tennis history is not Federer nor does Rod Laver or Pete Sampras, but the legendary American Jimmy Connors has won Grand Slam eight times. in career.

  54. Adrien A. says

    I’m a fan of RF (being Swiss…) but I must say you make some great points, especially given that Djoko is relatively young !

  55. 1. Federer 2. Nadal 3. Novak always was that

  56. Oliver Reif says

    What I don’t think is being discussed is Federer’s consistency. His most impressive record I think is his 23 consecutive semi final streak. The next closest semi final streak is maybe half that. if Federer keeps losing to the other two why does he have more slams? The answer is consistency. Roger is the greatest of all time because he is the most consistent. Nadal and djoker beat Federer but they don’t get to the finals enough to do it.

    Time will tell if roger remains the slam king though. Then my argument would need to change.

  57. The funny thing about backing arguments with “hard numbers” is that people forget that numbers are -ALMOST- as subjective as opinions. At least, we can make numbers speak our minds if there is no clear discrepancy between them.

    For instance, people tend to forget that the Australian Open and the US Open are played on the same surface (hard court). Djokovic has then won 10 hard court GS, his favourite surface, so he has won “”only”” 5 GS outside of this surface while Nadal has won 6 (2 Wimby, 3 US, 1 Aussie) and Federer 11 (if you consider Wimbledon his favourite, you can also say he has won 8 outside of hard courts).

    Undermining Nadal’s 12 GS as a weakness in the GOAT debate (lack of versatility argument) is also undermining Djoko’s 10GS -domination- on hard courts.

    If versatility is truly appreciated in this debate (I personally think it should, but one can also argue that dominance over a surface/tournament/period of time is more impressive) then the WTF shouldn’t even be mentionned, as it is a tournament played once a year in the less played “conditions” a.k.a indoor hard courts and within a completely different tournament format.

    Number can also mislead in that they don’t take into account intangibles (which I personally believe is not an amazingly strong argument if we want to objectively understand who is the best, and not who is the most admired, etc; but it is a reasonably valid argument): in that department, Roger and Nadal have a longer history (for some, more impactful as well, 2008 Wimby final still being considered the greatest match ever by many experts and fans) and are **in general** (hard thing to say but nowadays it seems subjectively that is the case) more admired and followed than Djokovic.

    All of this (last paragraph) is very subjective though. More importantly, numbers don’t show what you don’t want them to show (because everyone is biased). You could say we have a “weigh” problem. It’s near impossible to weigh (although many have tried, insuccessfully, in humble opinion) “ifs” and tournaments such as the Olympics. In soccer, Messi is still not considered the GOAT, by many people, because he has not won a World Cup for his country. In tennis, the Davis Cup surely isn’t as important a the Soccer World Cupm maybe the Olympics could make the cut? If that was the case, would Federer’s gold medal in doubles weigh as much (or close) as Nadal’s gold in singles? Would Djokovic’s lack of gold Medal hurt his GOAT chances as much? Very hard to tell. Even more difficult to explain with numbers: how to rank Laver’s achievements due to his history? He would have probably won way more GS, same as Borg. Shouldn’t we “weigh” these circumstances in this GOAT debate? If we were capable of doing so (ps: we aren’t), maybe Laver could be ahead of our Roger Federer. How to weigh injuries? It seems very impressive that Nadal has been able to win as much as he has despite his injury record, it is a career-long struggle that neither Djokovic nor Federer have had (in spite of some rare episodes).If we could also “weigh” titles according to past injuries, I’m pretty sure Nadal would be by far the GOAT.

    Anyway, the debate goes way deeper than you suggest. I like when people argue logically in this GOAT debate (it is very rarely the case), that’s why the only thing that disappointed me in your article was the terrible overstatement: “I don’t see how you can conclude anything else than the greatest of all time is Novak Djokovic”. It is actually VERY easy to conclude otherwise, even with the same numbers you’ve presented, and that’s also without considering intangibles, ifs, and tournaments that are difficult to assess such as the WTF and the Olympics.

    Hope I’ve been able to nuance your points! It was a pleasure to read your analysis though. I personally believe the only certainty we will ever have is that these three are very probably the best three players of all times. For all these reasons, it is very hard to escape the dumb but yet effective way of measuring “GOATness”: the number of GS titles. The more we try to complexify the analysism the more these subjective matters cloud our analysis.

    • Good comment! Although both a type of hard court, the Australian Open uses a synthetic surface called Plexicushion and the U.S. Open uses a product called DecoTurf. slightly different. That said there’s also no grass court Masters event so federers numbers can also be skewed. But that’s the fun of numbers!

  58. Your argument that Federer cannot be the best because he can’t beat Nadal at French Open is ridiculous. How can you conclude that Djokovic is the greatest when he cannot even beat his greatest rival- Nick Kyrgios!!
    Look at the number of weeks spent at the top ranking or winning the most ATP Finals(the tournament for the best of the best) and you will see Federer is on top!

    • I want to comment on the Djokovic vs Kyrgios issue. Djokovic played Kyrgios twice in 2017 when he was in a slump suffering/recovering from his elbow injury. It\’s just like judging Djokovic by his first 12 tournaments in 2018 (6 – 6) and concluding that he\’s an average.

  59. Tim Labarda says

    Statistically novak is the best out of 3 but that is not enough to consider him as the GOAT.. For me even both rafa and novak eclipsed roger in the major title tallies, federer will always be the greatest player of all time, what he did in the sports of tennis is crazy i dont play tennis but i love watching it because of fed the way he plays is magical .. Surely if these big 3 plays in different era .. Roger,Rafa and Novak will surely have not less than 30 GS title apiece .. Rafa is untouchable in clay, Novak is good in any tournaments he played and roger is still dominating despite his age of almost 38 .. Were very lucky to witness this 3 incredible players play in our generation ..

  60. LeVron James says

    Based on the H2H, Nadal is the GOAT. Nadal leads the H2H over both Federer and Djokovic in Grand Slams. Nadal leads Federer 9-3 in Grand Slams (including 3-1 at the Australian Open). Nadal also leads Djokovic 9-6 in Grand Slams (including 2-1 at the US Open).

    Since achievements in Grand Slams are more relevant than achievements outside Grand Slams, we can conclude that H2H in Grand Slams > H2H outside Grand Slams.

    By the way, you said that “However for me, Novak Djokovic consistently beats his biggest rivals in the biggest matches on all surfaces”. Does Djokovic consistently beat Nadal at Roland-Garros? Nadal dominates Djokovic 6-1 at Roland-Garros. Djokovic only defeated Nadal at RG when Nadal had his worst year on the tour (2015). Djokovic has never defeated a well-playing Nadal at RG.

  61. Federer is the GOAT….will remain GOAT forever. It looks odd and awkward if someone says someone else other than federer is GOAT. U take one top 100 player as a reference….and let us imagine all the three guys in discussion plays against the reference player. Roger takes less time and barely Sweats to beat that guy compared to the other 2. If a work is given to 3 people and one of them does the work faster and more beautiful than other two, who is great Mr lee. How many times in their career djokovic and nadal finished their service games less than 1-2 min…u can’t compare them with federer. He is super fast, super smart and gifted. That’s why he is called greatest by many…Game is not just numbers. U can’t measure federers artistry with numbers.

    • Neil Hupping says

      You didn’t point out that Federer beat up on crappy players en route to his grand slams. I mean Roddick and Philipoussis and an aging Agassi?

      Also, the only reason Federer has a French Open title is because of a freak win by Soderling over Nadal in the third round.

      Federer is the worst of the 3 here.

      • That’s a terrible argument. You beat who you play and Roddick was a great player for many years and would’ve won 6-7 majors if it weren’t for Federer. If you’re only talking about players they played in finals how about Puerta, Anderson, Ferrer, Soderling himself, Berdych…I mean come on?

  62. I think that it is not only about stats but also there style , the pleasure they generate in watching them play. In this respect nobody can beat Federer and coupled with his incredible stats makes him the greatest of all time . Djokovic and Nadal might end up winning more than 20 slams but will never generate the beauty that Federe does .

    • That’s just stylistic and really has no reflection of their actual game or skill. I’d rather win ugly than beautiful although I fully agree that nobody has ever played more beautifully than Roger.

  63. There are many ways to analyse data and depending on your focus you will get a different output. With that been said, I consider important the fact that Nadal had to share his shining periods with the best Federer and the best Djokovic while they had periods with no competitors.

    For me the best tennis player ever is the one that gives more to the sport. The three of them are awesome, but without Nadal we would have missed the two best rivalries ever, Federer – Nadal & Djokovic – Nadal.

    • When did Djokovic ever have no competitors?! He came after the other 2 guys. That doesn’t make any sense. Also Federer had different guys to get thru before Nadals emergence like Hewitt, Roddick, Safin and Agassi. All grand slam winners and all great players as well.

  64. John Benn says

    How on earth can you say that Roger Federer is the best ever tennis player,after the fact that Rod Laver won two Grand Slams of every tournaments,TWICE>>>>
    Rod Laver must be the best ever,by far

  65. Nadal leads 24-16 face to face with Roger, 14-10 in finals and 10-4 in Grand Slam finals.
    Nadal won 2 “big two” (Roland Garros+Wimbledon in the same year). Roger only 1 and Novak never.
    Nadal did lose only 3 matchs in the last 16 years of Roland Garros. 12 vitories in the same GS. Roger and Novak never won over Nadal in Roland Garros… but Nadal won over Roger in Wimbledon 2 times and over Novak some times in USA and AUS. Novak boosted this career during Nadal and Roger low competitive times by injuries. This is the true.
    The three are great leyends. Hard to say wicht one is better over the other two. …..

  66. Joshua Michaels says

    Well that you guys mention Andy Murray, consider this. As MANY experts have said, after Roger Federer, Murray was the second best player on grass. Why do I mention this angle of Murray? NO ONE has benefitted most with Murray’s retirement and injuries than Djokovic! How?

    First yes the big three have owned Murray. But…..But very important to note how great Murray was on grass. Wimbledon literally was his home court. Roger Federer obviously owned Murray at Wimbledon. They played 7 sets at Wimbledon and Federer won 6 of the sets and beat him in the semifinals and finals. So, its important to note when Federer was winning Wimbledons he has literally faced Murray, Nadal and Djokovic consistently. And let’s not forget Federer beat Sampras at Wimbledon when Sampras was red hot and in his prime. And Federer even beat Agassi in the Us Open Finals. And I cant wait when someone replies, “but Agassi was way past his prime at the age of 35.” And I say YES! What makes Roger’s level at the age of 38 that much more incredible. Rather than counting these losses against Federer like you did by saying Djokovic is 3-0 at Wimbledon versus Roger. Well at least mention: let’s keep in mind when he beat Federer, Federer was pushing the ages of 35, 36 and 38 when he beat him all three times and twice it took him 5 sets to beat an aging Federer! Back to Andy Murray angle.

    Federer dominated Murray on grass meanwhile Djokovic has never ever ever even won a set versus Murray on grass. They’ve played twice at the All England club and Murray is 6 sets to Djokovic’s zero!!! And Murray beat Djokovic in the Wimbledon finals in straight sets.

    So, you need to look from an angle of why Michael Jordan resonated so much. Or Muhammad Ali. When Frazier beat Ali the first time, no one was saying Frazier was the best although Ali came back and beat him twice. No one cared Ali lost five times. No one cares that Bill Russell has 11 rings to Jordan’s 6. Ask why? Because, like Federer- our eyes told us that what Ali and Jordan were doing was something beyond sports. It was a special talent. Sports genius. Why do you think Federer has loyalists in the first place? Why does the tennis world always back him. Because as human beings we are all connected and in our core when we see Federer, we KNOW that he is doing something beyond the sports level. That tennis is such a taxing sport on the body and that tennis is not supposed to be played like that, the Federer way where he makes it seem so effortless. So rather using straight math and analytics for your arguments, look at it from a 360. Look at everything. Why not mention something like this:

    Djokovic won 15 of his 16 majors when Federer turned 30. When Federer was 30 and under, Djokovic had ONE major. So, Djokovic won 15 majors when Federer turned 30. Nadal won 9 of his 18 when Federer turned 30. Or ask yourself, why the hell is a 38 year old man serving for the match against a prime 32 year older?

    Point also is Federer is a victim of his own greatness. Imagine if Federer didnt make all these finals at his old age? His resume would look better cause he wouldn’t have all these losses in the majors…….cause we all know Federer at his prime wouldnt be losing three Wimbledons to anyone. Again, this is the same talent that beat Sampras in his prime at Wimbledon. So, let’s not try all of a sudden by your argument saying Djokovic is better on grass than Federer. And your argument is but Federer lost three times to Djokovic in the finals. Guess what Larry Holmes beat Muhammad Ali when Ali was 38. Does anyone even consider Holmes in the same level as Ali? Of course not.

    Rather than using these losses against Federer at an old age. Realize that what you’re seeing will never ever happen again: to play like this at the age of 38. You think Djokovic or Nadal will be playing in the finals of majors at 38? I’ll answer that for you? They wont even be on tour at that age. So understand why theres Fed fans as you say so defensive of their guy in the first place. Why are fans as you say so emotional over Federer in the first place.

    Quick experiment: think back to Sundays finals. Now try to think of three great shots by Djokovic. Pretty difficult to remember. Now think of Federer. You immediately remember many shots. You probably remember just his amazing drop shots making someone like Djokovic who has flawless footwork; fall and drop and look clumsy so many times. Again, why? Its because Federer goes beyond the sport. He does things on the court that tells our eyes that is special. Our eyes tell us this (Federer) is different. It’s not analytics which he has also with 20 slams. But, it’s our eyes that tell us this (Federer) is special and we wont see it again. Because, it’s a unique talent. As tennis players we KNOW that we will see grinders like Djokovic and Nadal. But, we know we wont see another Federer because by playing the sport, we know what Federer is doing defies science and math time after time. Appreciate his greatness cause you wont see it again. Ask yourself why does he gravitate to the majority of the tennis world. It’s because sometimes math is not the answer we are looking for, but rather our eyes are telling us a different story.

  67. I respect Roger and Rafa as greats of the game, But I consider Novak the greatest just because in the sheer fashion he wins these finals with the world always against him he still over comes.Again in the 2019 Wimbledon final he putt the Wimbledon crowd and every one who watched that final at a loss for words.Novak will certainly over take Roger and Rafa because he is just mentally so much stronger in these great finals. It’s like when the world is against him he rises to the occasion and becomes a greater player. Some one like that is dangerous. I mean Novak came back from a elbo injury and won 3 Grandslams and in the process became no 1 again. To me thats insane. This guy will become the worlds greatest tennis player. This is what predict.

  68. Richard M Kotz says

    Just a interesting note for you: In 2008, when I visited my college coach, Eddie Moylan a former davis cup player and coach in the 40\’s and 50\’s who had the best ground strokes of the era, he told me that Djokovic was the best player he has seen since Pancho Gonzalez, a greatly overlooked potential GOAT and a self made player. Mind you that was 2008 when Fed was in his prime and Djokovic was just 21. Unfortunately my coach died a few years later at 93 and wasn\’t able to see Djokovic unfold. And unfortunately no one talks about Pancho Gonzales, a self made player who was a poor kid and thus turned pro after his first 2 US major wins in \’48 and \’49. He was considered the best of the 1950\’s winning the US Pro\’s 8 years in a row. During the golden age of tennis 1934-67, he was widely considered the best player.

  69. Matthew Speray says

    Joshua Michaels, to sum up your argument, Federer lost so many matches to Djokovic for the past 7-8 years because he lost his \\\”greatness\\\” when he turned 30 years old. No, Federer didn\\\’t lose his greatness when he turned 30. He plays just as good now as he did then. Some would argue he plays better. The fact is, he lost to Djokovic at Wimbledon three times because yes, Djokovic beat him, not because Federer is too old and shouldn\\\’t be there. The age argument is an excuse for losing. And all your comments about how special Federer is on the court while Djokovic and Nadal don\\\’t do anything special is ridiculous. Sounds like you\\\’ve spent so many years defending Federer, you simply can\\\’t do what the writer of this article, who happens to be a federer fan did, which is face the facts and acknowledge who the real GOAT is. The GOAT is not based on Federer\\\’s 20 Grand Slam wins, half of which were early in his career, or even who ends up with the most Grand Slams, but based on the big three\\\’s career head to head matches and Grand Slam matches. That\\\’s the only way to determine who should be considered the GOAT. And based on that, Lee is right, Novak has the lead at this point

  70. Valentine Ndubuisi says

    Its very difficult to settle this GOAT debate in tennis. U can make a case for any of them and you will be right. We are blessed to have seen these three players play together. The most impressive player of the three is Rafa ( my own opinion anyway). He dominated Roger in the heart of Rogers prime and has never lost a French open final or semifinal, he has lost just 2 matches at the French. He has battled many career threatening injuries and still managed to win 18 majors and 34 masters. But until anyone can surpass Rogers major tally Roger is the GOAT.

  71. Relja&Jana says

    I am university professor…econometrics…Mr Lee; great job you ve done very accurate and precise…analytics you ve done, hard to beat…someone can accept it or not, but it is what it is…
    Great job !!!

    • In my opinion Nadal is the best of all time since his head to head against Fader is 60% and against Djokovic its just shy of 50% although Nadal holds the edge over Djokovic as he has more records and titles and Nadal is the player with the highest percentage of wins in history at 83%. This last stat says it all!! He wins more games then anyone else; ever past or present.

  72. Thanks for your information
    Tennis is a popular sport around the world. Every year, there are many competitors who take part in tennis tournament. It’s very difficult to choose the greatest mens tennis players.

  73. In my opinion Nadal is the best of all time since his head to head against Fader is 60% and against Djokovic its just shy of 50% although Nadal holds the edge over Djokovic as he has more records and titles and Nadal is the player with the highest percentage of wins in history at 83%. This last stat says it all!! He wins more games then anyone else; ever past or present.

  74. Nadal is more deserving of the GOAT status. Why? Firstly he dominated Roger in the heart of Rogers prime and has a 60% win rato in his advantage over federer. Rafael Nadal also 19 Grand slams, which is just one off federer who is half a decade older and Federer had less real competition early on in his career. Rafael Nadal also holds a record 35 Masters 1000 and has the best performance of any player in history; with an 83% win rate over the 18 years he has played. This is what the definition of GOAT means! Djokovic only has 16 Grand slams compared to 19 and has only beaten Nadal 2 more games out of 54 games, which isn’t enough to give him an advantage, especially given Nadal has the all time win ratio and more big wins. Yes Djokovic is great, but arrogances doesn’t make him a better player!

  75. Lots of things said about Rafa after New York. Only few say he “inspires”,for lack of better, heavier word, mortals like lots of us. In essence, he doesn’t come forth as one saying “I am” but more like “I will be”. And that is greatness. We can not argue using ifs and buts or could be or should be…Rafa inspires more when he plays. Again inspires does not capture the very essence of the man. Many say that they will pick Rafa to play for their lives in a do or die match. That is not far from the truth. I like Rog and Nole and they are greatest for lots of people too. But when I allow somebody to play to save me, Ill pick Nadal as well. It’s not realistic yet it feels the right thing to do. Call it guts, instinct or whatever you like. The man plays with something else and you can just sense you are in good hands with him. To the extreme, if not just my life but if the world is at stake and invaders would fight us in a game of tennis for our freedom, Nadal gets my vote. In fact, somehow I believe that only Nadal will be up to the challenge and somehow he would know that. We won’t need a vote anyhow, Nadal will raise his hand simpy because the rest feel like they don’t have what it takes. They are not cut for the job. And again that to me is true greatness.

  76. Pierre Tessier says

    Fed may not end up being the most successful player of all time, but for now, he still his the GOAT. Statistics are not the only thing that should be considered. For exemple, Michael Schumacher is the most successful F1 pilot of all time, but not the best. Ayrton Senna is the GOAT in F1. Any serious F1 fan knows this.

    So here are my picks for “most talented” of all time (after 1980):
    1. Federer (by a wide margin)
    2. Borg
    3. Sampras
    4. Djocovic
    5. Nadal

    • Lol any serious F1 fan appreciates A LOT Senna’s talent but Schumacher is cleaarly the GOAT. Idk in which bubble you live in, trying to impose your subjective opinion over hundreds of pundits and fans. And this is coming from a Brazilian who would love to see Senna being considered the GOAT.

      Btw, your “talent” list is overwhelmingly subjective (you don’t claim otherwise though, so cool, it is probably meant for discussing so let’s go!).

      Putting Borg over Sampras or Nadal is ridiculous, you could make a case for Djokovic (he is unbelievable talented from the baseline but very below at the net). Nadal on the other hand can be seen as less talented than Federer (Federer is without a doubt the GOAT talent wise) and maaaybe below Sampras (very hard to tell), but it is a right handed guy who wanted to play football, then learned how to play tennis with his left hand, has great dropshots AND net skills and is arguably the best passer of all times. The difference with Djokovic (who is better at Dropshots and maybe slightly better from the baseline) is the net play (Nadal is clearly superior, and was throughout his whole career). Hard not to put Federer 1st though. Sampras was also a monster from the baseline (albeit behind Djoko and Nadal for sure) and an absolute magician at the net and serve (such as Federer).

  77. Speaking of number, it would be difficult to beat John McEnroe’s 156 titles. And, Jimmy Connors’ 109 Singles titles have not yet been beaten. And, I am not certain if Roger Federer with 103 will surpass Connors. To me, all these great players have their supuriorities, deserve to be called one of the GOATS.

  78. all those folks who claim Roger is the best of all time because he has the most grand slam wins will in the near future have lost that barometer to lean on. Roger is not winning any more majors, sorry, his days of beating Rafa and Novak are long gone. Rafa is only one major behind and will certainly pass Roger with at least two more French Open wins and perhaps anther Major in the next few years. As for Novak, he is a lock to pass Roger and distance himself from the pack in the next 5 years. he is still at the top of his game and can easily win at least 5 more majors. Then the case will be closed, Novak the best of all time.

  79. Clearly it’s between Rafa and Novak . Novak has better head to head vs Rafa but I will give Rafa little advantage because he is leading Novak 9-6 at Grand slam which matters most . Rafa beats Novak in French and Us Open . In wimblendon and australian open those matches were epic . New generation is here so for me it will be difficult for novak to beat Federer’s challenge . Rafa recently beats Tsitsipas and Medvedev in his least favourite surface after injury . If stays fit Rafa can resolve the debate in 2020. No one dare to count out Roger but djoker is beaten by all the young guns in his favorite surface this year which is a concern .

    • For me, the next generation isn’t here until they’ve won a couple of majors. Over the years some random guys have won a masters or 2 here and there and even the WT finals. Win one of the slams, actually win 2-3 then they’ll have arrived to me.

  80. Tennis Gambler says

    Very well argued. I can’t really add to the numbers and the logic – and I agree with your conclusions.

    I have an additional viewpoint from that of a gambler! Starting out as a Federer fan well over ten years ago my betting in-play began to take a turn for the worst as my bias to be “on” Federer back-fired in matches between him and both Nadal and Djokovic. It became painfully clear from a financial perspective that Djokovic was the stronger player in high stakes matches. The more high-stakes and the more tense, the more likely it was that Djokovic would prevail – just so much better in clutch situations. Your numbers back this up – but there are others e.g. Djokovic leads 4-0 where matches went to 5th set and is a dominant 14-5 in deciding sets! Decisive in my view (no pun intended)

    Trust me – perspective changes when hard-earned cash is on the line…….that cash will be invariably be on Djokovic, I learned the hard way. I also believe (but cant prove) that Federer gets more nervous – shots hit the frame, double faults etc. Its a body language thing for me. Djokovic seems to relish it more, I put this down to the inner belief he is the better player..

    I do agree unless Djokovic equals or surpasses Federer’s GS total the argument to hail him as the greatest ever will be hard to win, But if he does then it game, set and match to Djokovic.

  81. Your answer to one of the earliest posts was interesting. “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.”

    I do!

    In the majors Jack has Tiger beaten (up) fair and square. Not just the number of wins 18 – 15 now, but a vastly superior number top 10 and top 5 finishes. Jack finished 2nd 18 or 19 times as well. You need to check out Jack’s stats in the majors when he was in his prime they are quite incredible. Yes there are other events and stats where Tiger is superior, but in the majors Jack is way ahead of anyone else. And for me that makes him the greatest.

    For me Federer is the greatest of all time, simply because the age difference is so significant. All 3 are great, probably the 3 greatest ever. I’m a Nadal fan before anyone accuses me of being biased!

    A great article.

  82. The author might have bothered to get the age difference correct: Fed is FIVE YEARS OLDER than Nadal (not \”4.5\”) and SIX YEARS OLDER than Djoker. Get it right.

  83. Have been watching tennis since Edberg my first tennis idol and do have to agree that they are the greatest three of the open era I’ve seen with Sampras a close fourth who was unplayable on his day on fast surfaces.
    One really major point you are overlooking is the fact that Nadal and Djokovic are 5/6 years younger than Federer. Very big factor.
    You can’t fairly use head2head difference as a good measure. The younger greats will beat the older greats.
    For me a Federer that is 6 years younger than Djokovic has a significant lead in the head to head against him on all surfaces bar maybe clay. A Federer that is five years younger than Nadal definitely beats him at RG in at least his later years. Federer was fairly unplayable for stretches when he was younger (as Djoker was in ’11).
    Second 5/6 years is a long time in technology. Nadal and Djokovic grew up playing with larger head racquets with more forgiving sweet spots and more stable easy power. Federer would have also have had this advantage if he was younger and it’s pretty easy to see the difference it made once he adopted properly in ’14.
    Third, greatest of all time to me suggests the one that would most easily be able to play in any style or era and for me this is clearly Federer. One of my favourite things is to watch Nadal play who I’m a massive fan of but I don’t think in other eras he would have been as dominant as three GS were on grass and he wouldn’t have had a racquet that generated massive spin. In my mind a younger Fed would have obliterated Djokovic on the fast Wimblers grass of the 80’s. Sampras might have beat Fed though on same!

  84. LEE ABBAMONTE – It is clearly obvious that you are a Djokivic fan and that’s ok, but the problem is when you try to have a debate about the so called GOAT it is from a subjective POV. You have tried to justify Djokivic being the greatest based on his H2H against the other two. The funny thing about stats is that you give two people the same set of numbers and they will both present different conclusions, usually to suit their opinion. What you seem to have conveniently left out is the fact that H2H is distorted since each player peaked at different times, was either carrying an injury or coming back from one, or out of form. When Djokivic won 7 in a row over Nadal during 2015/16, Nadal was carrying a wrist injury which resulted in him dropping out of the top 4 and not reaching a GS F in either year. This was the period when Djokivic won his only meeting against Nadal at the FO (QF – 2015) when Nadal was not fit and out of form. This is backed up by the fact that Nadal previously owned a perfect 6 – 0 record over the Joker. Also despite his win over Nadal that year, this still failed to yield a maiden FO title since he choked against Warwinka in the final (this was supposed to be his best year on the tour). One other point Djokivic may have a winning H2H against Nadal but not where it matters, as Nadal holds a healthy 9 – 6 lead in GS. As for his record against Federer his recent dominance is based on the fact that he has been playing an aging player past his best, who’s greatest asset was his movement. There has rarely been a player who covered the court with the same speed and grace as Federer and it was this quality above all others, that allowed him to dominate. Basically for a player to be a shot maker he has t be in position to play that shot and that can only happen if they have the requisite court speed and footwork. This is a great handicap when one’s court speed starts to diminish, which is why Federer has adopted the same approach as Agassi in his later years, namely stalking the base line and taking the ball on the rise, dispatching corner to corner to dicate the point. When Federer was at his best he could mix it with anyone from the baseline, but now he has to shorten the points with high risk tennis to compete with Nadal and Joker (anything over 5 strokes and he is in trouble, a clear tell tale that he lacks bot the speed and stamina of his youth). Federer and Joker match up well because both have games that are non specific to any surface, and up to 2014, there was nothing to separate the pair. Lets not forget that Federer rediscovered his best in 2017 when Djokivic was injured, therefore Fed was denied wins over Joker incl one of the slams.

  85. You also claim that Nadal owned Federer because of ther H2H, also rubbish. Nadal only owns Federer on clay (same way he owns Joker and everyone else) with a 14 – 2 record. On all other surfaces Federer has a winning record of 14 – 10 (3 – 1 grass and 11 – 9 on HC). In finals Nadal leads 14 – 10 (hardly 1 sided). They have 13 matches that went to the final set (7 over the best of 3 and a record 6 over the best of 5, from which they are split with 3 wins each). Both players peaked at the same time between 2005 – 07 playing 13 matches, with Nadal winning 7 matches (6 on clay, 1 on HC) and Federer the other 6 (across all surfaces), which comprehensively proves that both were evenly matched. In 2008 Nadal was fearsome on clay and dominated Federer, but also scoring that famous win at Wimbledon, which for me was the best performance of his career. Similarly Federer dominated Nadal in 2017 with 4 wins out of 4, including the AO final where Federer produced his best clutch tennis. The reason Nadal has such a clear margin in their H2H is because most of their matches took place on clay, Nadal\\\’s best surface. It is interesting to note, that Nadal hardly ever plays the indoor season (where Federer owns a 5 – 1 record) usually citing injury, otherwise Federer would have a similar winning record like Nadal has on clay, therefore their H2H would be much closer.

    • Michael. Johnson. says

      Imagine if Federer did not miss all those matches during the clay court swings. The head to head would be so bad, not just with Nadal but also with Djokovic, he would not even be considered in the GOAT debate. Just like at this point in time the only reason he is still in the running is because of the amount of grand slams. When the two tie him in grand slams the debate is over.

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