In this post, I’ll display a few tables dissecting the performance of our 10-player list in the main GOAT categories.
WEEKS AS #1 & TOP 2 – TOP 10
In this category, we see a complete domain of Federer, who leads in all subcategories: most weeks as #1, as top 2, 3, 5 and top 10.
Here, Sampras has the still unsurpassed mark of 6 finishes as #1, a record even more impressive considering that he did it 6 consecutive times! That consistent and unprecedented dominance over his peers can well be used to build his case as the GOAT.
#1 year-end finishes apart, Federer again emerges as the most decorated player of them all. If he finishes in the top 10 this year, he’ll break the tie with Agassi and Connors and will reign alone with 17 finishes in the top 10!
Nadal is obviously in a good position to challenge those top 2-top 10 records, but he’ll still need a few more years.
Federer’s numbers are still breathtaking, his leading in every possible category here. His consistency is what impresses most with 53 — fifty-three — quarter-finals, which is 10 more than Djokovic, who comes next.
TOUR FINALS (former Masters Cup)
Federer leads the field once again, with more titles, finals and semi-finals.
MASTER SERIES (or Masters 1000)
Finally a table where Federer doesn’t dominate. Here, he’s only third, with Nadal and Djokovic closely fighting to see who will end atop. Right now, Nadal leads in all categories, but Djokovic has an added honor that many see as propelling his case as the GOAT: he won all different 9 Master Series!
In its current format — since 1990 — Djokovic is the first and only one to have achieved that incredible feat. However, before 1990 there was also a series of 9 different tournaments which can be said equivalent of the current Masters 1000 or Master Series, and Lendl managed to win every one of the 9 different slots. In this sense, both Lendl and Djokovic should be considered as having achieved the feat.
BIG TITLES (GS + TF + MS)
In the Big Titles table, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have put considerable distance between them and the rest of the field, each of them surpassing the astonishing 50-titles mark!
Federer still leads in titles, finals and semi-finals, but he’s also 5/6 years older, so in this particular category, he is in”imminent danger” of being surpassed. With 9 Masters 1000 still to be played in 2019, Federer could see his lead disappear even before Wimbledon.
What sets Djokovic apart, though, is the fact that he is the only one to have won every single “big title”: the 4 different Grand Slams; the 9 different Master Series; and the Tour Finals !
For instance, Federer never won Rome nor Monte Carlo (he’s a four-time finalist in both of them), whereas Nadal never won Miami, nor Paris and, most regrettably, he never won the prestigious Tour Finals.
This is a HUGE statement of Djokovic’s versatility and all-round kind of game. This incredible and unparalleled achievement definitely can be used to make Djokovic’s case as the GOAT.
SNAPSHOT: TITLES & #1
In this big table, we see how Federer has a very strong case as the GOAT — as of now –, but we could envision Nadal and, perhaps even more dangerously, Djokovic closing the gap on him.
One interesting feature of this table is the “average ranking” in respective category. Federer is clearly the leader, no doubt about it, but it may surprise some to see that Nadal has only the 5th best average, with 4.4, coming behind Djokovic, Sampras, and Lendl! Of course, his being the only player not to have won a Tour Finals title gives him a 10th place in this particular category.
However, it’s not fair to Nadal that the Gold Medal or Davis Cup titles are not ranked. So let’s add this table:
With Gold counting as 1, no-Gold as 3 and “n/a” as 2, the new average ranking changes a little bit, with Federer still in first, followed by Djokovic, Nadal, and now Sampras tied with Lendl.
Now, Lendl’s fans would protest that it’s not fair to include Davis Cup titles here at this table — and I would agree –, but this is only an illustrative table that helps build a big picture of these legends.
In the previous post – Direct Elimination – we reduced our list of GOAT contenders to 10 players. They are the ones who have: (1) won 5+ GS titles; (2) spent 52+ weeks as #1; (3) finished at least once as #1.
My idea for this section – the knock-outs – is to make a quick one-to-one confrontation based especially
on their performance on the big numbers,
resorting to both super-heavyweight
and heavyweight numbers, and
see if we can reduce – without any shadow of controversy – our list of true GOAT
are our ten selected players and their main achievements.
The numbers are formatted in a way to make easy to spot who’s who: the greener, the better; the redder, the worse.
said, the idea behind this session is to see whether we can come up with
another set of “clean”, “clear-cut” eliminations and reduce still further our
reasoning used here has also to be explicitly stated.
criteria to be used in the knock-outs.
player leads any one of the big categories (#1 + big titles), he is safe;
player loses in every big category to another candidate, he is out.
If a player
loses in most big categories to 3+ candidates, he is out.
So, at a quick
glance, we have already 3 players that are safe – Sampras, Federer, and Nadal –
since each of them leads at least one of the big categories. The others must
play the knock-outs.
the clear winner here, leading in most categories, but Edberg wins in a very
important one – year-end finishes – and so he is not yet out.
Borg, Edberg stands no fighting chance. His best result is a tie in the year-end
finishes. That could be considered a clean elimination, but let’s have Edberg
compared to another player.
a perfect score here. Edberg is definitely out.
contest here. Borg does win in most categories, but Agassi has one big advantage:
he completed the career Grand Slam, that is, he won each one of the four most
coveted prizes, whereas Borg didn’t.
Nadal, Agassi has almost no place to hide and cannot use the “career Grand Slam”
card. But Agassi wins in the Tour Final category, so he survives to fight another
finds his doom. No fighting chance against Djokovic, who wins in every possible
big category. Agassi is out.
Bjorn Borg loses to McEnroe in most categories, but leads in the crucial Grand
Slam titles category.
be considered a clean win in favour of Sampras, who fails to win only in one big
category – Master Series. Strike two.
Once again, Djokovic imposes a total defeat. Borg is out.
in all but one category. Strike one.
not so clear the outcome. I’d say Connors has slightly the edge, but this
cannot be considered a clean victory to either side. Still strike one.
for Lendl, who wins in every big category. The fact that Lendl didn’t participate
in a Davis Cup winning team doesn’t change this fact. McEnroe is out.
… we could
use Federer’s resume to complete the elimination!
winner here. Most people (including myself) will consider Nadal the winner of
this knock-out, but Lendl does have two important wins here: more weeks as #1
and (much) more Tour Finals titles (5 vs. 0).
leads in most big categories, but Lendl has a small edge in weeks as #1. Strike
Lendl is on the losing side, but with twice as many Master Series titles, he
lives to fight another day. Strike two.
Clean sweep. Lendl doesn’t find a shadow to hide: he is also out.
I would say
that Lendl wins this battle, but Connors does have an important win over the
year-end finishes and they are tied in Grand Slam titles. Let’s not create
controversy, so no strike here.
be said to be the uncontroversial winner here. But as Connors has more weeks as
#1… strike one.
Almost a perfect
victory for Sampras. But as Connors has more Master Series… strike two.
in every big category, and the fact the Connors has 10 more overall titles has
no impact on the verdict. Connors is out.
doesn’t lead any big category, but he’s second in four of the six most important categories – year-end finishes, tour
finals titles, master series titles, and total count of big titles –, making
his resume one of the strongest ones. But let’s not jump to conclusions and see
how he fares at the knock-outs.
already saw him collecting victories against Agassi, Borg, Lendl, and Connors.
He also gets
clean victories against both Edberg…
… and McEnroe…
… remaining to see how he fares against the three
big-categories leaders: Sampras, Federer, and Nadal.
For the following bit, I updated and included Djokovic 15th Grand Slam title, recently obtained in the Australian Open.
For the previous part, that title didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the comparisons, so I left the data from the end of 2018.
Here, there is no clean winner. Nadal has the edge in Grand Slam and Master Series titles, but Djokovic has more weeks and year-end finishes as #1, not to mention a big advantage in Tour Finals titles.
Here, it’s the opposite. Sampras has the edge in year-end finishes and weeks as number 1, but Djokovic has definitely the edge in the big titles’ categories.
As far as this table is concerned, Federer comes out as the winner here, since he loses only in the Master Series category. But as Djokovic gets only one strike, he gets to pass to the next stage, when we will have a more detailed analysis of their resumes.
Lucky for him, lucky for us, as in the more detailed analysis we will see other strengths of Djokovic’s resume that are not immediately apparent in this more generic table like his being the leader in Australian Open titles and his being the only one to have won ALL different big titles!
Nadal leads the
Master Series category, so we considered him “safe”. But let’s see how he fares
against Sampras and Federer.
Against Sampras, Nadal has the edge in Slams and Master Series, but loses in weeks and year-end finishes as #1, as well as in Tour Finals titles. No clear winner here.
Federer leads in all but one category, so that would be strike one. But it’s Nadal’s only clear defeat as far as this table is concerned.
As in Djokovic’s case, we need a deeper analysis of Nadal’s resume to pinpoint his strengths, like his being the only one to have won multiple Slam titles in the three different surfaces.
leads one big category, making him “safe”. But let’s see how he would fare
Federer leads in all but one category, clearly making him the winner. But that’s the only strike Sampras has
against, so he survives the knock-out stage.
here was to see whether we could use our main criteria to reduce still further
our list of GOAT contenders so we could really concentrate our efforts in a
more detailed exam of the remaining selected few “true candidates”.
we are fully aware that there are many other aspects to be considered in a
player’s resume, and that’s why we proposed that only a total defeat in the
main categories or a three-time-clear-defeat would be enough to disqualify a player.
respect, I think that the knock-out stage gave us a pretty good look at who the
true contenders really are!
could see that Edberg, Agassi, Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, and Connors – the new
eliminated –, not only did they clearly lose at least three times, but each of them also experienced a total/clean
our remaining four – Sampras, Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic – bravely survived
the test as none experienced a
total/clean defeat and none was defeated more than once!
Now, it’s impossible
to be indifferent to the fact that Federer is the clean winner in every single knock-out.
Having this table the most important categories represented, shouldn’t we use
this fact and declare Federer as the GOAT, unequivocally?
Many people and most Federer’s fans think that yes, that this simple table would be more than enough to make Federer’s case as the GOAT.
this is a BIG however, it’s precisely at this level of achievements that the
discussion gets heated up and subtleties and nuances have to be weighed in before
we make our final call.
And that’s also precisely why I was prudent enough to use this “knock-out strategy” only to achieve “clean eliminations”, that is, uncontroversial eliminations.
Indeed, up to this point, my main and sole mission was to establish a solid ground upon which we can ALL agree. And I am confident that, as much as we can disagree on the GOAT discussion and final criteria, WE CAN ALL AGREE that FEDERER, SAMPRAS, NADAL, AND DJOKOVIC ARE OUR VERY BEST GOAT CANDIDATES: let’s call them the Fab Four.
Yes, there may be some who think that Sampras or Djokovic shouldn’t be here at all. There may be some who cannot understand how Federer can be the GOAT with a losing record against Nadal. There may be some who think that winning all big titles is a must for the GOAT. And so on.
But I would be really, really, really surprised if any other name was seriously mentioned to challenge the claim[*] that Federer, Sampras, Nadal, and Djokovic are our four best GOAT candidates, each of them having achieved incredible things that the others haven’t. They could be said to be the tennis GOATS in the sense that each of them may present a good – a formidable – case to defend their case, their respective unique greatness.
our job in the next chapters: to exam in detail what makes each of them unique
and to try and see who may emerge victorious in the end.
[*] Always remembering that Laver and Rosewall are not included in this analysis.
 I included
“overall titles” and Davis Cup titles only as an added curiosity.