Tennis TALK By U.B. Acharya:Conclusion of ‘GOAT’ Debate 
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Tennis TALK By U.B. Acharya:Conclusion of ‘GOAT’ Debate 

January 30, 2023

Ever since boxer Muhammad Ali proclaimed “I am the greatest,” the term “Greatest of All Times” or GOAT has become very popular in all sports. While Don Bradman (Avg. 99.94) is the GOAT of cricket, it is Jack Nicklaus (18 Majors) for golf and Usain Bolt (23 gold medals) is for athletics.

However, there is no unanimity among experts who should be the GOAT of tennis. After prolonged discussions they narrowed down to five players namely, Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. These experts then decided to have a live TV debate with a panel of three eminent judges.

The senior judge was an 80+ year-old Oxford educated Englishman who had played at Wimbledon in early 60s and has watched practically every Wimbledon final. The second judge was a lady, a US attorney (60+) well-versed in international tennis. The third judge was a young Australian IT guy who had the results of all the important tournaments at his fingertips. The five players were allowed to nominate a spokesperson who would argue on their behalf.

Without much ado let the debate begin.

Rocket (for Laver): My candidate after winning the Wimbledon Junior Championship went on to win his first Major title at the age of 21 years and crowned it with a Grand Slam (that is, all four Majors in the same calendar year) a couple of years later (1962). He then joined the professional circuit and not only became the best player there but won several tournaments including eight pro-majors. When open era started, he won his second Grand Slam, a record unbeaten even today.

Although the ATP records show that he has won only 72 tournaments, if one includes all his amateur and professional victories prior to 1968, it would add up to 200 tournaments. Also, if the system of week-by-week ranking system was in existence during my candidate’s playing days, he would have been Number 1 for nearly 350 weeks. He had an excellent serve and volley game and when in lead he would never lose a match. He is very modest and is liked by one and all. Because of all his achievements and his gentlemanly behaviour, my client should be the GOAT of tennis.

Pistol (for Sampras): My candidate had a bullet like service right at the T-junction (hence the nickname Pistol Pete). Most often it was unreturnable and even if someone returned it, Sampras was ready with a cross court volley winner. He had an excellent jumping over head shot which was a sure shot winner.

He won his first Major at 19 years and in a short span of his best playing years, he won 14 Major titles of which seven were Wimbledon titles. Also, he won the year ending ATP finals five times and all these were records at that time. He stopped playing at the age of 31 years and had he continued, he surely would have won some more important titles. Taking his records into consideration, I believe he should be the GOAT of tennis.

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Fed-Ex (for Federer): Once he won the Wimbledon Junior Championship, he defeated the then reigning Wimbledon Champion in the Men’s Singles in the fourth round. Though he lost in the next round, he won the title next year. During the next eight years, he won 15 Major titles thus beating the previous record. Also, he had several individual records to his credit but now only two of his records are still standing. First one is eight Wimbledon titles and the second one is 237 continuous weeks as World No. 1. In addition, he shares the maximum titles in ATP Finals (6) and three Major titles in a year (thrice) with another player.

My candidate has an accurate and consistent first service (hence the nickname Fed-Ex), an all-court game and it is a pleasure to watch him play. He has millions of fans all over the world. The crowd support he gets during important matches is unbelievable. Taking his records and popularity into consideration, I firmly believe that he is the GOAT of tennis.

Bull (for Nadal): My candidate won his first Major (French Open) at the age of 19 years. There after he won this title for four continuous years. In total, he won 22 Major titles of which 14 are French Open, a record. Further, he has won two Majors in a year five times. In addition, he earned a gold medal in Olympics tennis Singles event. He has won 81 consecutive clay court matches and hence called “King of Clay.”

He is an excellent baseline player and can retrieve a ball from way behind the baseline for a winner. Another lethal weapon he has is the deceptive forehand slice drop shot from the baseline. Time and again he has been severely injured but invariably he has come back to win more Majors. Actually, he is a great fighter. In view of these qualities, I believe that he should be the GOAT of tennis.

Djoker (for Djokovic): At the outset I would like to mention that the title of GOAT is not awarded on the basis of how fast one serves or how good one’s backhand is or how many million fans a player has. It is based purely on how many important tournaments a player has won. In other words, quantitative evaluation is the only criteria to award this title.

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At present he holds the record for maximum number Australian Open titles (10), an Individual Slam (holder of all four Majors simultaneously not in the same calendar year), maximum number of Masters 1000 title (38), highest win-loss percentage (83.49%) and highest number of weeks as World No. 1 (373+ weeks). In addition, he shares the record of maximum number of Major titles (22) and ATP Finals with two different payers. Also, he has a unique record of winning all four Majors, year-ending ATP Final and nine Masters 1000 tournaments at least twice. Also, he is an excellent fighter until the match point is won or lost.

To highlight the quantitative aspect, I have awarded different points based on the importance of a tournament. The method is to give 1 point to Major title, 0.75 to ATP Finals, 0.5 to Major runners-up and so on. Bonus points are also given to Grand Slam, Individual Slam, etc. Based on these calculations, the points earned by the five contenders are as follows:

Djokovic 133.9, Federer 115.3, Nadal 105.3, Laver 104.1 and Sampras 64.1. Fortunately, numbers do not lie and hence my candidate is the GOAT.

Verdict: Before discussing in detail, the judges decided to take a snap poll. While the senior judge voted for Laver, the US attorney leaned towards Federer and the Australian voted for Djokovic. The judges realised that the spokespersons highlighted the merits of their candidates but their flaws were ignored. For example, Sampras has not won the French Open and once he lost to young Federer, he practically lost heart and retired. Nadal is a one-dimensional player (clay court) and more importantly has not won the prestigious year-ending ATP Finals.

Regarding Laver, he has no flaws but gave up glory for money by becoming a professional and thus lost out on many Major tournaments. Federer also has no flows but when pushed by the opponent, he crumbles. He has lost thrice to Djokovic after reaching match point in Major tournaments. Meanwhile, Djokovic has the habit of breaking his racket in a match. He explains that it is to get his frustration out of his system.

After detailed discussions, the judges agreed that quantitative evaluation is the most important aspect and bestowed the title of GOAT upon Novak Djokovic. Now you as the readers can choose your favourite as the greatest.

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