When it comes to tennis, it’s no surprise that Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal take centre stage. No irreverence hinted to the women’s game here. That said, the Big Three’s colossal feats, and influential presence justifies their pole position not only in tennis, but world sport in general. The current COVID-19 pandemic further highlights how these icons are potentially turning into messiahs for the lower-ranked players.
Moreover, the intense rivalry and domination by them for more than a decade has not only introduced many new fans to the sport, but it has also generated enormous money into the system and increased the value of all stakeholders in the process. Simply put, they have enriched the sport in myriad ways.
Due credit must be given to their lesser-celebrated adversaries in Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic and many others. These professionals have undoubtedly made the ATP tour more competitive and gripping. The consistency and level of play shown in the decade gone by has compelled experts to wonder whether this the best era ever in tennis.
But be that as it may, let’s concentrate on the GOAT debate.
While many fans and pundits have been enjoying tennis like never before, there is a constant debate among certain sections of fans on who the real GOAT should be. In fact, to the extent that it has resulted in many an unpleasant exchange on several digital platforms.
Let’s look at how the GOAT debate stands currently.
While some believe Federer is unquestionably the best ever, there are others who would love to bestow the tag upon Nadal. Not far behind is Djokovic with his share of supporters and voters. Finally, there is the fourth category, rather confused and diplomatic bunch, if I may add, which likes to believe all three deserve to be called GOATs.
Whichever section you belong to, here’s highlighting some unprecedented numbers of all three legends.
20 Major Titles- Leader on the all-time list
Record 310 weeks as No.1 player
103 ATP titles- 2nd on the all-time list
19 Major Titles- 2nd on the all-time list
35 ATP 1000 Masters title- leader on the all-time list
Better Davis Cup & Olympics record compared to his rivals
17 Major Titles- 3rd on the all-time list
Only player since 1968 to hold all Majors together (2015-16)
Only player to win all the ATP Masters 1000
(Note: If the tour was uninterrupted, the Serb was billed to eclipse Federer by year end for most weeks as World No.1).
While respective fans would be tempted to extract more stats and facts to further prove their favourite player’s supremacy over the other two, one thing remains clear. All three have staggering records and arguably possess no threat from the next generation.
Now, rather than taking sides and forming opinions, let’s focus on possible scenarios which could settle the dispute for good in time to come.
Firstly, we must all recognise and appreciate the fact that the Big Three are not going to hang up their boots anytime soon. With the Swiss maestro assuring of his presence in 2021, all retirement speculations have been put to rest.
The unfortunate part, though, stares us all in the face currently in the form of the ongoing pandemic. As a result, we have been robbed off some high-octane action. As most of you would know, the tour has been suspended till at least July 13. While the US Open and French Open is scheduled for September-October, we are at the mercy of an “unknown enemy”. Some are already pessimistic about the resumption in 2020.
But when the tour does resume and I hope it does at the earliest, we would not only be blessed to see the big three, but balls being hit back and forth in a competitive tournament.
Going by the unwritten rule in tennis-- greatness of the player is measured on how many Majors one has won. And Federer being the leader here, would want to surge further ahead. On the other hand, Nadal too is only one shy of 20. But perhaps, the Djokovic juggernaut appears more ominous.
There’s another possibility. All three could finish at 20 Majors apiece. That is precisely when other records- ATP 500/1000, Rankings, Davis Cup, Olympics etc will take prominence.
Currently, there isn’t much to pick between them. But all three realise any drop in intensity could derail their prospects of finishing as the best ever. That said, all have several things in common. Artistry, determination, insatiable hunger and, above all, unmatched passion for the game. Sure, the Spaniard and the Serb have more time on their hands in comparison to the Swiss, but champions defy time, and Federer has proved that in the past.
Whatever course this race might take in the future, we tennis fans should leave the judgement of bragging rights to time. For it will always have the last word. It’s futile making any premature calls now.
Remember, what the ongoing black swan event has taught us. We are deprived of any live action and are craving for respite. Worse, it has also proven how prognosis and theories can be reduced to a folly. The biggest pleasure doesn’t lie in wondering what if and what could be, but enjoying the present. Whenever the resumption happens, let’s enjoy tennis with a better purpose.