Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic: Who's the real tennis GOAT?

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Who is the greatest tennis player of all time?

It’s a long conversation which never fails to divide opinion, but it’s clearly between Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

On January 30, the final of the Australian Open saw Rafael Nadal defeat Russian star Daniil Medvedev and claim his 21st major, which has sparked the fire on the debate once again.

The answer to this question is flexible based on when it is asked. For example, Federer passed Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors in 2009 which was seemingly enough for most fans to place him ahead of the rest in terms of star power. Then, in the 2010s, the Serbian Djokovic won an astonishing 15 majors and became the player of the decade.

This long-term battle has prompted The Telegraph, as per Stuff, to take a deep dive into the current stats and produce a scoring system to rank the athletes based on various categories.

They developed a system where points are distributed based on where they came in a category; one point for first, two for second and three for third. The man with lowest total of points wins.

Grand Slam Titles

1 point – Nadal (21 titles)
2 points – Federer (20 titles)
2 points – Djokovic (20 titles)

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Perhaps the clearest indication of status on this list would be the amount of Grand Slams won. The player who finishes their career with the most from this list could easily rely on the stat in any debate about who the greatest might be. The race is on and as mentioned above, Nadal just creeped ahead of the rest with his recent win in Australia.

ATP Tour Titles

1 point – Djokovic (86 titles including 37 Masters)
1 point – Federer (103 titles including 28 Masters)
1 point – Nadal (90 titles including 36 Masters)

Though you may notice that the numbers vary, it feels impossible to split the players in this category. Longevity plays a huge part in the fact that Federer is the only man here to win over 100, but he’s still behind the all-time record of 109 held by Jimmy Connors.

ATP Match Wins

1 point – Djokovic (989 at 83 percent)
1 point – Federer (1,251 at 82 percent)
1 point – Nadal (1,038 at 83 percent)

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Again, it remains hard to split these insane achievements. Once more, Federer is benefitting from his incredible longevity as he played last summer’s Wimbledon just a few days before his 40th birthday, though, he comes out with a slightly worse win percentage than his statistical rivals. The men hold the three highest win percentages since the ATP began with the next highest at 79 percent.

Head-to-head Record

1 point – Djokovic (27-23 v Federer, 30-28 vs Nadal)
2 points – Nadal (24-16 v Federer)
3 points – Federer

A category win for Djokovic. He learned from each early defeat and was able to work and reverse the scores. Federer comes bottom of this list with several losses to Nadal without being able to turn it around.

Weeks at World Number One

1 point – Djokovic (358 weeks)
2 points – Federer (310 weeks)
3 points – Nadal (209 weeks)

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Back-to-back category wins for Djokovic who boasts a powerful ability to maintain a high level at the top time after time. Nadal appears quite a long way behind his rivals in the list which is something that stands out in the comparison. He has a poor injury record and reliance on clay which doesn’t look too good for him.

Surface Specialism

1 point – Djokovic (60 percent of majors on hard. Win Percentages: 80 on clay, 85 on grass, 84 on hard)
2 points – Federer (55 percent on hard. Win Percentages: 78 on clay, 87 on grass, 83 on hard)
3 points – Nadal (62 percent on clay. Win Percentages: 92 on clay, 78 on grass, 78 on hard)

Nadal has won a large majority of his matches on clay which earns him a fair amount of criticism. It’s often said that he’s unable to play on other surfaces, particularly when he does genuinely have problems with his knees bending and crouching on a grassy surface.

Federer has “only” won one French Open and is the only member of the list who hasn’t won all four Slams at least twice. Djokovic is undoubtedly the most versatile performer with at least 80 percent wins on all three surfaces.

Marks for Style

1 point – Federer
2 points – Nadal
3 points – Djokovic

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Time to ditch the objective test and, for our final category, lean into the eye test.

This is about crowd reaction and who moves the racket with such planned delicacy. Federer wins this category, hands down. He’s described as the most graceful player to ever play so it’s no surprise he walks away with this category. Nadal comes second and Djokovic will leave no one wanting to rewatch his technique, but his approach could be said to be mechanical and effective.

Overall Scores

1 Novak Djokovic – 10 points
2 Roger Federer – 12 points
3 Rafael Nadal – 13 points

Right now, the stats point to Novak Djokovic as the GOAT of tennis and, given some of the stats he could point to, it may be hard to argue.

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