It’s Novak Djokovic against the world. the no. 1 ranked ATP player is getting all the attention since his Australian Open debacle in January. Then, he was tied with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most grand slam titles won at 20 and in position to break the record. However, since he was unable to participate in a tournament he dominates (he holds nine AO titles), Djokovic was unable to contend for that record.
Instead, we saw Nadal make an epic — and I mean epic — comeback against world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the final to win only his second AO title since 2009 and his 21st major, breaking the slam record and surpassing both Federer and Djokovic. Nadal was down two sets to love and serving into 2-3 and love-40 in the third set … and won! According to the win predictor, Nadal had a 4% chance to come out on top.
Four percent and he got it done, at 35 years old, against the best current hardcourt player in the world, down two sets, triple break point in third, on crutches not long ago after recovering from COVID-19 and he just comes out and does the impossible. The only person who believed Nadal could do it was himself and that was all he needed.
So, certainly Nadal must be the greatest ATP player of all time and now with Djokovic potentially out for a while due to his stance on vaccination, the Serbian can’t claim GOAT status. Then, with Federer on the tail end of his career, by process of elimination, Nadal is the GOAT. According to Twitter, it’s that easy.
I am here to give you the answer to which men’s singles tennis player is actually the GOAT, and I mean the greatest of not just this generation but all of time. With Nadal now holding the titles lead and Djoker potentially out for the foreseeable future, it’s best to squash this debate now.
What makes each player great
Let’s start off with distinguishing what makes each player great. Aside from records, titles and accolades, it was the way each player fought, and how each had a different style of play that made them so unique and difficult to figure out.
For Nadal, it’s his heavy top spin game that makes it extremely tough to redirect. It’s his left-handed play that adds another element of difficulty for opponents. Being a lefty matters because it allows players to serve wide to a right-handed player’s backhand in the ad service box on big points. Adjusting to a lefty is tough. Add in that it’s Nadal as a lefty and yeah, good luck. Combine Nadal’s defense with his ironclad mindset and it’s no surprise to see him excel in this game.
For Federer, it’s his unique forehand. His grip allows him to have complete control from anywhere on court. In layman’s terms, it’s commanding. His serve is top-tier, winning 89% of his service games in his career, ahead of Nick Kyrgios and behind three players, one being John Isner. It’s about consistency. If you give him a target, Federer will hit it. Not to mention that he has one of the best net games combined with having the best slice.
For Djokovic, it’s his return game. It doesn’t matter how powerful of a serve you have, or how many aces you are used to hitting because your ball is coming back when you play Djoker and you better be ready for it. His ability to counter strike is a thing of a beauty, and his flexibility helps him play the best defense.
What do all three have in common? A versatile game with a no-quit mentality. As we saw from Nadal’s comeback win. As we can also see from Federer’s fight to come back from injury at 40 years old.
GOAT debate: Should we go off records?
Tennis is the greatest game around. In America, we love our football but there’s something about tennis — the purity. The thought of one man facing another from 80 feet across and the thing that separates you is not always the skillset but the mental edge, the mental toughness, the bull-like no-quit mentality — it’s beautiful.
I’ve always taken the stance that Djokovic is without a doubt the greatest, as he sits on the mountaintop of head-to-head records against the greats (27-23 against Federer and 30-28 against Nadal). But he could also ultimately hold the major title win record when all is said and done.
We have to acknowledge that there is no man on this planet that can beat a ‘prime’ Nadal at the French Open (105-3 record). The 2020 season solidified just that with Nadal’s admirable, dominating victory against Djokovic in the final. You can look at Djoker’s 2021 four-set victory over Nadal at Roland Garros and think it’s already been done but last year was not an optimal showing of Rafa’s talents as he was fighting injury throughout the season. However, to counter that, Federer and Djokovic both know how to dismantle Nadal on hard court.
My final answer
All three are the best trio that’s ever propelled a single sport. Without Federer, Nadal’s and Djokovic’s games would not have risen to the level it is today. Without Nadal, Federer wouldn’t have improved the much-needed backhand that helped him control 2017. And without Djokovic, Nadal and Federer wouldn’t have evolved their style to beat the likes of so many baseliners today.
So who’s the ultimate winner here? The sport of tennis and its fans. these three giants have given so much to the game. They’ve shown how complicated tennis can really be and complication makes for entertainment. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, they show you something entirely new. And what separates these three from the rest is the ability to make adjustments mid-match and then execute for a win.
I’m sincerely grateful and full of joy that I’ve had the great fortune of watching these three beasts uncover new elements to the sport that I love watching. As Jimmy Connors has said, it’s “boxing at 90 feet.”
Who’s the GOAT? All three. They are the best at breaking down each other’s weaknesses and improving each other’s strengths.
We as fans just need to sit back and cherish the moments that we have to watch their brilliance because I, for one, am dreadful of the day we no longer have even the Big Three in play — a day that could come soon.
One thing that is guaranteed, however, is that we are in the midst of these greats passing down their knowledge, inspiration and influence to the next generation of players. Medvedev could certainly lead the charge but you see glimpses of inspiration through players like Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime and Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic doesn’t need another title to solidify his place in history. Federer could retire tomorrow. Nadal could win another major. All three could happen and it wouldn’t change the fact that these three legends are the best trio in sports history and we as fans are fortunate to have experienced the evolution of greatness.
In a recent interview, Italian star Fabio Fognini said it perfectly, the new generation of players “all have the same game style. They just hit strong. There will never be players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and del Potro again.”