By: Aaron Xiong
With Novak Djokovic capturing his second French Open and becoming the only man in the Open Era to win two Career Grand Slams, the discussion of who is the GOAT has reignited amongst analyst and tennis fans across the world. With very different playing styles, careers, and reception from fans, each member of the Big 3 have carved a convincing argument for who is the greatest of all time.
For years, the pinnacle of success and GOAT has been Roger Federer. A seemingly dominant force from 2003 to the beginning of 2010, the Swiss Maestro has left his mark on the tennis world since his first Wimbledon Championship in 2003. Roger Federer holds many accolades and records that tower over that of his opponents and predecessors.
At the Majors, Federer’s tallies include six Australian Opens, one French Open, eight Wimbledon Championships, and five U.S Open titles. Federer holds numerous records at the Wimbledon Championships starting with the record for most titles at eight. The Swiss Maestro has also made the final a record 12 times where he is 8-4. He also shares the record for most consecutive titles (5) with Swedish legend Bjorn Borg. At the U.S Open, Federer shares the record for most titles (5), but won all five of his titles in a row becoming the man with most consecutive titles. Federer also holds an astonishing record of 5-2 in U.S Open finals, a tournament where he is seemingly unstoppable.
At the Australian Open, Federer has only loss one of the seven finals he’s reached in the down under. Federer also holds the record for most consecutive semi-finals made at the Australian Open with 11 spanning from 2004-2014. Despite being a talented all court type of player, Federer has only won 1 French Open. The Swiss legend has made the final five times, but has been halted by Rafael Nadal in 4 the four finals he’s loss.
Federer’s pristine success at the majors has proven to many to be the most consistent player at the slams. Federer has made the final of at least three of the four slams in the same year a record four times and has been to the final of every slam in the same year a record three times.
Many consider Federer as the GOAT due to his success as the world number one. Following his win at the 2004 Australian Open until August 18, 2008, Federer was the world number one. He held the number one spot for a total of 237 consecutive weeks which is still a record today. Undoubtedly the best player during that span, no one even came close to knocking him off the top of the rankings list. Federer has finished as the year end world number one a total of 5 times and has proven to be the best of the best as he holds the record for most ATP Tour Finals (6).
Aside from the majors, Federer has also proven to be dominant at the majors and ATP 500 level. Federer has won a total of 28 Masters 1000 titles with seven of them coming at the Cincinnati Masters where he holds the record for most titles. The Swiss Maestro has also won five Indian Wells Masters which is a record he shares with Novak Djokovic. Federer has also amassed three Sunshine Doubles which consists of winning Indian Wells and Miami which are the first two Masters tournaments and only a week apart.
At the ATP 500 level, Federer has won a record 24 titles. Federer has won a record 10 Gerry Weber Open, seven Basel Indoors titles, and also has a record eight Dubai Championships. Prior to 2009, the Basel Indoors wasn’t on the 500 tour level so only seven of Federer’s 10 trophies count towards his ATP 500 count. Nonetheless, Federer joins Rafael Nadal as the only players to have won a tournament at least 10 times.
Backed by one of if not the most loyal fan base, many Fed and tennis fans across the world still consider Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. After becoming the first man to lift 20 Grand Slam trophies, many hailed him as the greatest player to play the game.
The second member of the Big 3 is none other than the great Rafael Nadal himself. The Spaniard holds numerous accolades and records himself and has achieved feats that no one could’ve imagined. Kicking things off, Nadal’s Grand Slam tallies consist a record sharing 20 Grand Slams with one Australian Open, 13 French Open’s, two Wimbledon Championships, and four U.S Open titles. Sticking out from the other three Grand Slams are his record 13 French Open titles. Nadal won four straight titles from 2005-2008, five straight from 2010-2014, and four again from 2017-2020. Rafael holds an astonishing 105-3 record at the French Open. Nadal also is 13-0 in finals where very few have gotten close to dethroning the king of clay.
In the past, Nadal received criticism for his lack of success on other surfaces particularly the hard courts. However, Rafael Nadal has racked up numerous titles at the U.S Open where he is 4-1 in finals. Taking his talents to the grass courts of Wimbledon, Nadal has won two titles and has made the final five times. Many tennis fans argue that since Roger Federer has never beaten Nadal in a French Open final or at the French Open alone, where as Nadal has beaten the king of grass in a final, the Spaniard should be considered the GOAT. Where Nadal lacks a bit of success at the majors is at the slam down under. Despite making the final five times, Nadal has only hoisted the trophy once in his 19 year career.
Rafael Nadal’s success doesn’t stop at the majors however. At the Master’s 1000 tournaments, Rafael Nadal has hoisted a trophy 36 times which is a record he shares with Novak Djokovic. Nadal’s success at the clay Master’s 1000 tournaments include records of 11 titles in Monte Carlo, 10 titles in Rome, and five in Madrid. Making up a bulk of his Master’s 1000 titles, Nadal has proven to be the most dominant player ever on one particular surface. His clay dominance shines as 62 of the 88 titles he’s won have been on the dirt.
Nadal also dominates at the Barcelona Open which is an ATP 500 level tournament held on clay courts. Nadal has won a record 12 titles in Barcelona where very few have beaten him in a final. Going along with his 11 titles in Monte Carlo, 10 titles in Rome, 13 at the French open, Rafael Nadal along with Roger Federer are the only players to win a tournament at least 10 times.
His success as the world number one has also received praise from tennis fans as he has finished as the year end world number one five times along with Roger Federer. He has also topped the rankings list for a total of 209 weeks. Nadal is also the only man along with Andre Agassi to complete the Golden Slam which consists of winning the gold medal at the Olympics and winning all four Grand Slams throughout their career. A feat that the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic haven’t reached helps give Rafa a case for the greatest of all time.
The Big 3 would not be complete without the great Novak Djokovic. As the youngest of the trio, Novak Djokovic cemented himself as one of the tennis greats back in the 2008 Australian Open where he won his first Grand Slam. Since he lifted the trophy in 2008, Djokovic has amassed a total of 19 Grand Slams. His tallies include nine Australian Opens, two French Opens, five Wimbledon Championships, and three U.S Opens.
With a playing style that adapts well to all surfaces, Djokovic has cemented himself as all court player. Despite being an all court specialist, Novak’s success has been highlighted on the hard and grass courts. The Serbian legend is 9-0 in Australian Open finals where very few have gotten the chance to take him down. At the Wimbledon Championships, Novak Djokovic has reached the final a total of six times and holds a 5-1 record in those finals. An unstoppable force in clutch moments, Djokovic has achieved records unimaginable to fans.
Despite favoring hard courts, Novak holds a 3-5 record in U.S Open finals where he has struggled on the fast courts. Nonetheless, he has proven that he has what it takes to defeat the best in New York City. The French Open like Roger Federer, was the lone Grand Slam title that alluded Novak Djokovic. It wasn’t until 2016 when the Serb was finally able to lift the champion’s trophy for the first time and again in 2021 for the second time. Following his appearance and win at the 2021 French Open, Djokovic became the only male player in the Open Era to win the Career Grand Slam twice as well as making it to at least six finals at all four Grand Slams.
Above all accolades at the Grand Slams for Novak Djokovic, is the fact that he has won the “Novak” Slam. This consists of holding all four Grand Slams or winning four slams in a row, not to be mistaken with the Calendar Slam which consists of a player winning four in the same calendar year. He achieved this feat after winning the French Open in 2016 where he won the 2016 Australian Open, 2015 U.S Open and Wimbledon prior. A seemingly unachievable feat, Novak Djokovic stands alone as the only man to ever complete it.
Aside from the majors, Novak Djokovic has proven to be one of, if not the most dominant player at the Master’s 1000 tournaments. Feats at these tournaments includes records of six titles in Miami, five titles in Indian Wells and at the Paris Indoors, and four titles in Shanghai. Following his win at the 2018 Cincinnati Masters, Djokovic became the only man to win all nine Masters titles once which is known as the Golden Masters. Once he won the Cincinnati Masters again in 2020, he then became the only player to win all nine Masters titles twice. Djokovic has also won the most Sunshine Doubles (4).
As the world number one, Novak Djokovic has amassed the most weeks at the top of the rankings list with a record 325 weeks. He surpassed Roger Federer’s then record of 310 weeks on March 1, 2021. Novak Djokovic has also finished as the year end world number one six times, a record he shares with Pete Sampras. At the year end championships, Novak Djokovic has won five times with four in a row from 2012-2015. Following his win at the 2021 French Open, many have started to hail Djokovic as the greatest of all time.
The Big 3 have solidified their legacies throughout their careers over the last three decades. With the twilight of Federer’s career looming over the tennis world, and Rafael Nadal losing his momentum at the French Open, Novak Djokovic is poised to make a run for 20+ Grand Slams by the end of 2021. Although the GOAT discussion has once again been reignited by tennis fans, there is still time on the clock before the discussion can be closed for good.