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The GOATs of Modern Tennis

Dernière mise à jour : 18 juil. 2021

The ATP has provided a great impulse to the Tour by boosting their Big Titles race. It is another great measure of « GOAT » or « ATG » debates, along with Year-End Rankings, Grand Slams, H2H and other relevant criteria.

We all now we are living in the Tennis Golden Era, perhaps even among all Sports - never before 3 GOAT contenders faced each other at the same time in an on going race. Therefore, we might better hail all 3 as the all time tennis greats (without forgetting Tilden, Laver, Sampras). All « Big3 » members made the sport much much bigger than it has ever been, and frankly watch a clash among these 3 titans is more interesting than basically any Slam final featuring other players.

Nevertheless, if we were to pin down who is a needle ahead of each other, we must keep the metrics used do far. For example, Sampras has long been taunted the GOAT because of his Grand Slams, #1 Rankings and rivalries management (Pete’s superior H2H vs. Agassi and other fellows Top10 is remarkable). Pete Sampras, in this manner, surpassed previous GOAT candidates like Borg (titles), Connors (rankings) and Lendl (overall) in almost all criteria.

Little he knew, Federer would overwhelm him in a decade or so later. Roger was since at least 2009 nicknamed the GOAT of tennis - well deserved by the way, or at least it seemed so. After pulling out his 15th GS in mid 2009, little mattered to us that Pete still had the Year-End (6 > 5) and Weeks #1 (286 > 285) records in his favor or that Sampras dominated Agassi (20-14) in a way Federer could have never dreamed of with Nadal (7-13 then, 16-24 now). All what counted were the Slams. And perhaps here is where we have all mistaken, it was too early.

In the end, Federer had little time to rejoice his feat. In the US Open 2009 he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in an epic dual on Flushing Meadows ground. In 2010, the world of tennis was kidnapped by Rafa Nadal, the most powerful athlete to have played the sport. And then, a colossus surged in 2011… Since that year, the sport of tennis would revolve in an endless battle to dethrone its new usurping emperor - Novak Djokovic. It seemed almost unfair to many, after all Federer has just reached the « GOAT » status in 2009, he couldn’t even taste it properly. We had our moments anyway , in 2012 he surpassed Sampras 286 weeks #1, jumping from the 285 up to 302. He won his 17th GS title in the sacred Wimbledon grass - levelling Sampras at 7, fair and square for the two grass GOATs. But it was Novak who laughed last in 2012 - defeating Federer in the Finals and wrapping the whole year #1.

Roger had also an excellent run in 2015, but this was the greatest season in Open Era Tennis (post Laver 1969) in Nole’s favor though - cemented with a Wimbledon and US Open direct H2H defeats in Finals. Federer woke up again in 2017, pocketing a AO over his archrival Nadal and his absolute WB 8th title, but still Rafa endend up #1 in 2017 (RG+US) and Novak came back from an 18 month injury in mid 2018 (also #1 + WB + US). However it was fine, as long as Roger kept his « GOAT » position untouched, from the heights of his 20 Grand Slams and 310 #1 Weeks… well, not for long. Nadal kept winning the French. The Djoker gave the Maestro his most heartbreaking loss at his grassland home in 2019 WB final. Rafa closed in the GS count by 2020 at RG. Nole did it too, first in march 2021 hitting 311 weeks at #1 after AO and again in July, summing 20 Slams in WB. And long before we could realised it, his majesty was no more…

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the ones responsible for not letting Federer wear his crown inside the court. Now they are literally taking it from his hands, while he delays his retirement. The clashes between Rafa and Nole are true epics of the sport. What they do inside the court seems to be unreal, pure fantasy. The Roland Garros semifinal of 2021 may be considered one of the greatest matches ever played, side-by-side with any other classic. Despite of that, we all now who would rule the world had we: 1-2 more Masters 1000, another Grand Slam and a 2 year rotation of ATP finals on clay - the Iberian Bull.

Yet, as Novak possesses « The Grand Slam »(non-calendar 2015-16), the double Career Grand Slam, the double Golden Masters; the most Weeks #1, most Year-Ends #1, highest Career Winning % (83.30%) on record in history, superior H2H against his main rivals (incl. two GOAT candidates), not to mention Nole the best challenge for Rafa at Roland Garros clay and the most feared rival of Federer on his beloved Wimbledon grass; it becomes harder and harder not to credit Djokovic as the tennis undisputed bearded farm animal - aka greatest of all time.

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