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The Big Three: Solving the GOAT Matrix in Men’s Tennis (Last Part)

March 25, 2022, 01.10 PM - The factors I analyzed till now couldn’t settle the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) tennis debate. A yardstick for Greatness is the record against formidable opponents.

Roger Federer made opponents seem lesser during his stint as a top player. During this time, few who faced the Swiss master could give him any consistent high-level competition. It will always be debatable whether Federer’s greatness was a factor that reduced the competition to mere mortals or tennis, in general, was weak after the exit of the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and others.

Greatness is not bestowed, greatness is earned by sweat, grit and a never say die approach. Greatness is not just about winning, records, or fan following - it’s the will show in critical moments, how the records were created and how you inspired the next generations.

Longevity is a very impactful factor for greatness. Federer at 39 years, Rafael Nadal at 35, and Novak Djokovic at 34 are all past the median age of Grand Slam champions that is 26 years. The longevity they have maintained is likely to affect the median age and now, tennis does not feel like a game for the raging adrenaline but it has become a very common sight to see the senior craftsmen go head on with the new bulls and actually beat them.

Also readThe Big Three: Solving the GOAT Matrix in Men’s Tennis (Part I)

Greatness is intangible, and there will always be arguments. To rate someone as Greatest of All Time, it is imperative that arguments are buried forever.

Two other factors

Hence, the last two factors of the GOAT matrix come into play – impact on the game and adoration of the public and peers. Being perceptions, a subjective analysis will be needed to maintain a balanced view.

As far as the impact of the game of tennis is concerned, there can be no doubt that all three have made such a huge impact in terms of playing style or approach to the game. Whereas Federer brings finesse and grace to the shot execution, Nadal brought the art of topspin baseline artistry and Novak has redefined return of serve and court coverage. Federer’s complex footwork means that he takes more steps than the long-striding Nadal because, to be at the precise position, he actually hops and skips more than anyone would notice.

This brings us to the last of the GOAT matrix factors – adoration by the public and peers. Greatness has to have approval from the masses and overall acceptability by the peers.

Unfortunately, the story of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic unravels in the most unforeseen conditions. Rating these three on basis of the spectator support, huddling for autographs or photographs or the commentators’ praise would be an injustice. It is essential to look at mass psychology before making up our minds.

A filed photo of Roger Federer.Uniqlo A filed photo of Roger Federer.

Federer’s entry on the tennis screen came in 2001 when he defeated Sampras in the famous “change of guard” match but we must realize that his entry was at a time when the world of tennis was craving for new heroes, new poster boys, and new faces. The cluster of Grand Slam winners, which had seen 20 different champions sharing 40 trophies in the decade before Federer, had left the fans wondering about the future of the sport. Easing into the frame was very smooth for the long-haired, cutely smiling, and confident Swiss. In fact, his arrival was a rejuvenation for the sport and sports administrations at that time.

Have we ever heard a single voice about Federer like what we hear about players like Novak or Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, or even Andy Murray? No, not me at least and by that standard, Federer must have been perfect, but we know there is nothing perfect in this world except for the perceptions that we hold on to.

I too would have loved to continue with my liking for Roger and not write this article, but the problem is the existence of two other men who have made strong claims to greatness and, unfortunately, we cannot ignore them.

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