22:21:20 – The GOAT Race is very much “ON”
Feature Articles, Sports

22:21:20 – The GOAT Race is very much “ON”

July 11, 2022

By U.B. Acharya

One might ask what these magic numbers are. In fact, these are the number of Major titles won by the three great champions namely, Rafael Nadal (22), Novak Djokovic (21) and Roger Federer (20).

Many old-time tennis experts believe that the GOAT (Greatest of All Times) in tennis should be based mainly on (if not only on) the number of Major titles won. If that be the case, historically in the 1920s Bill Tilden with 10 Majors was considered as the greatest. In the 1960s Rod Laver with 11 Majors was and is still considered by many as the greatest. In the beginning of this century, Pete Sampras overtook the rest with 14 Majors. However, this was short lived as Federer overtook this number finally reaching 20 Majors. Now this year, Nadal has gone ahead with 22 Majors. However, this approach has one major defect. One of the great players, if not the greatest Rod Laver would be joint sixth in their reckoning. All tennis followers would agree that this is not a correct assessment.

As a keen observer of tennis, I believe that apart from Major title winner (erroneously referred to as Grand Slam winner), other criteria should also be taken into account.

These are 1. Grand Slam (all four majors in the same calendar year), 2. Individual Slam (all four Majors won continuously not in the same calendar year), 3. Career Slam (all four Majors won some time in one’s career), 4. Three Majors in a year, 5. Two Majors in a year, 6. Olympics Medals, 7. ATP Finals, 8. Major Runner-up, 9. Masters 1000, 10. ATP titles won, 11. Number of weeks as World Number 1 and finally, 12. Percentage of wins of all the matches played.

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A few analysts have used some of the above criteria and also using some qualitative factors such as service, volley, backhand etc. and have unanimously come up with Federer as the GOAT. Since more than 85% of tennis fans are Federer fans, this is a popular verdict.

Even I have made a purely quantitative analysis by assigning points to all the above-mentioned criteria and arrived at the rankings. As per my assessment, right up to end 2020, Federer was the clear winner followed by Djokovic, Laver, Nadal and Sampras. But by end 2021, the first two places got reversed and Djokovic came up on top. However, Nadal with two Majors (Djokovic with only one Major and one Masters 1000 titles) is closing the gap rapidly. Question arises, being a leader in Major titles, why is Nadal not the GOAT? That is because, he does not have a single year ending ATP finals title (Djokovic has five), he is way behind Djokovic in number of weeks as Number 1 ranked player and Djokovic has an Individual Slam and more Masters 1000 titles than Nadal.

So, it is clear that GOAT race is still very much “ON”. One expert has suggested that we should wait until all three present champions retire. I can’t agree with this more.


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