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Who is your ‘GOAT’? : The never-ending ‘Federer-Nadal-Djokovic’ argument

Any argument regarding the question “who is the greatest of all time’ (or GOAT)” is a very fraught one. This is fraught with dangers from all sides because of the fact that no two eras can really be compared with each other. Statistics are sometimes meaningless in this context. That is because they sometimes do not tell the whole story of such different eras. The statistics only show raw numbers. They do not show the competitiveness of an era when it is compared to another.

What this writer believes is that in such a discussion, it is better to compare stats of only one era among the players who played in that particular era. The historians as well as fans can have their own opinion. They may have their own say in this tricky “GOAT argument”, according to their own preferences.

We’ll focus on the three greats

With that in mind, it is pertinent to discuss the achievements of the three greatest of the present era: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Such a discussion will have a special significance this particular week as Nadal went on to win the French Open men’s singles championship with a predominant display over Djokovic in the final, thereby winning his 20th Grand Slam title in the process to equal the number of “Slams” won by Federer.

The following will be a statistical outlook on those three players. This writer is not going to profess any opinion regarding who is better than the other two. The readers themselves can make up their own mind about the three greats after going through the stats themselves. One thing is for sure: There will be a wide variety of reasons as to why each reader has reached their own conclusion.

The Grand Slam record

The Grand Slam titles each of them have won make an interesting reading. The figures may also show the preference of each player to a particular surface – lawn (Wimbledon), clay (French Open), or hard (Australian and US Open).

Australian Open

Roger Federer: 2004, 2006 and 2007, 2010, 2017 and 2018 (6 titles)

Rafael Nadal: 2009 (1 title)

Novak Djokovic: 2008; 2011, 2012, and 2013; 2015 and 2016; 2019 and 2020 (8 titles)

French Open

Roger Federer: 2009 (1 title)

Rafael Nadal: 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008; 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014; 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 (13 titles)

Novak Djokovic: 2016 (1 title)


Roger Federer: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007; 2009; 2012; 2017 (8 titles)

Rafael Nadal: 2008, 2010 (2 titles)

Novak Djokovic: 2011, 2014 and 2015, 2018 and 2019 (5 titles)

US Open

Roger Federer: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 (5 titles)

Rafael Nadal: 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019 (4 titles)

Novak Djokovic: 2011, 2015, 2018 (3 titles)

The analysis

  • Federer and Nadal have won 20 Grand Slam titles each. Djokovic, who is younger than them, has won a total of 17 titles.
  • Another interesting stat here is that Djokovic and Nadal have played between each other more times than any other two players in the major or Grand Slam tournaments in men’s professional tennis. That number (56) has only been beaten by the rivalry in the 1980s and 1990s between two great women’s tennis champions, Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navaratilova
  • Therefore, the fans of both Federer and Nadal can argue that the two are “better” than the other – Djokovic – since each of them have won more Grand Slams than Djokovic
  • Federer fans can argue that 13 of Nadal’s 20 titles have come at only one venue, the Roland Garros where French Open is held. Therefore, Federer is better than Nadal
  • Nadal fans can counter-argue that since he has won 13 of his titles at the French Open, which is often considered the most difficult Grand Slam out of the four, Nadal should be considered the best
  • Then, as is evident through the stats below, Djokovic fans have another counter-argument against the points mentioned above. This interesting stat is none other than the “head-to-head” record among the three players, which will add a very encouraging dynamic to the argument of the ardent Djokovic fans:

Djokovic vs. Federer: Djokovic leads 27-23

Djokovic vs. Nadal: Djokovic leads 29-27

Federer vs. Nadal: Nadal leads 24-16

  • Djokovic is younger than both Federer and Nadal and also, he has a better record against the latter two. Therefore, Djokovic fans can strongly argue that their one is the greatest

A never-ending argument

With such arguments and counter-arguments, points and counterpoints – though they are all good ones on all aspects – this GOAT discussion tends to become a never-ending one!

At the end of the day, what all fans need to remember – and rejoice, as the present writer believes – is the fact that everyone has to consider themselves fortunate to be living in an era where they could witness three great tennis players at their very height of prowess, dispensing supreme athleticism and entertainment that are bordering on almost superhuman status.

Just sit back and enjoy the ride while it lasts! Because when they are gone, everyone may regret not having enjoyed the three, no matter whom you considered the absolute “GOAT” out of them.