20:20:20 — Let the ‘GOAT’ Debate begin
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20:20:20 — Let the ‘GOAT’ Debate begin

July 19, 2021

By U.B. Acharya

With Novak “Nole” Djokovic winning the Wimbledon 2021 and thus winning his 20th Major title (same as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal), it is time to start a debate on “Greatest of All Times”. Though it is difficult to compare athletes of different eras, in this case the three great players have played in the same era and have competed against each other several times and hence it is fair to judge who is the greatest of all times.

Since all the three players have not yet retired, this is an interim assessment and the final verdict, according to past champion and now a respected TV commentator Boris Becker will have to wait only after they have hung their rackets.

The genesis of term “GOAT”

The term “GOAT” began to enter the lexicon in early 1990s when Mohammad Ali’s wife Lonnie incorporated the term ‘Greatest of all Times, Inc.’ to organise her husband’s business activities. However, the self aggrandising Ali had bestowed himself of the title “I am the Greatest” way back in 1960s. Besides being an acronym totally unrelated to the four footed mammal, the word “GOAT” has been our culture’s shorthand for “Greatest Of All Times” over the past few decades. In fact in every sport, this word has become familiar.

Number crunching exercise

Now let us look at the various quantitative criteria. The first one has to be the number of Major titles won and all the three have the same number of titles. Then comes in importance is the medals won in the Olympics. While Nadal has gold medal to his credit, Federer and Djokovic have a silver and bronze medal respectively. In addition, one has to consider ‘Individual Slam’, ‘Career Slam’, three Majors in a year and two Major titles in a year, ATP tour finals winner, Masters 1000 title, Number of weeks as World Number 1, etc.

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Now let us consider their head to head count. Between Federer and Nadal, Nadal leads by 24 to 16. Between Federer Vs Djokovic, Djokovic leads by 27 to 23. Regarding Nadal and Djokovic, again Djokovic leads by 30 to 28 times. So on this count, Djokovic is the clear leader.

All these titles can be quantified by assigning points and a detailed description of the methodology has been published in Star of Mysore dated March 12, 2019 and hence will not be repeated here. A total of 350 players have been analysed using these criteria and on this basis, Djokovic has 124.9 points, Federer has 115.3 and Nadal has 97.9 points. Therefore, according to my quantitative analysis, Djokovic is the GOAT by a considerable margin.

Semi quantitative analysis

In February 2021, a respected tennis critic after Djokovic won his 18th Major title made a semi quantitative analysis. He divided the various activities of a tennis game and ranked the performance of these three great players and gave them 3 points for the best and 1 to least among the three.

On the basis of the above analysis, Djokovic is marginally better than the other two.

Peter Bodo’s views on Djokovic

Peter Bodo, a well-known tennis critic, after watching Novak Djokovic play in Indian Wells Masters1000 way back in 2007 (a 16-year-old lad who had just won a couple of ATP 250 series titles) where he ended up as runner-up to Nadal, has said that though he is not a “Perfect Player” yet, he is bound to become one. Well said indeed.

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A qualitative analysis

If one takes a vote among the tennis fans, there is no doubt that Roger Federer would win hands down with nearly 85% of the votes. Unfortunately, the GOAT decision is not a popularity contest but based on cold numbers. And numbers do not lie!

However, one thing in Federer’s favour is that his game is pleasing to watch. It is like maestro conducting an orchestra. There are many well-known tennis analysts who declare that irrespective of how many Major titles are won by Nadal or Djokovic, for them Roger Federer will always be the GOAT. According to me, this is a biased view but everyone has his or her own views and I respect that.

Interim assessment

As mentioned in the beginning, one cannot conclude definitely who is the GOAT until all three retire from tennis. Therefore, my final assessment would be written only after that day. Until then one can only speculate though Djokovic is now the frontrunner.


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