The Men’s Tennis world said hello to a new king on Sunday in Melbourne when Rafael Nadal came back in stunning fashion to win the Australian Open. The victory gave the Spaniard his 21st career grand slam title, one more than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who each have twenty. While many are rightfully praising Rafael Nadal for catching and surpassing the Swiss and Serbian champions in career grand slam wins, Nadal’s claim to the throne as the greatest men’s tennis player ever is flawed, leaving open the debate of who the GOAT of men’s tennis truly is.

This has been a golden era for men’s tennis as three of history’s greatest players have been squaring off for the last decade, with only the other two standing between them and immortality. With Rafael Nadal reaching 21 career grand slam wins, he broke a three-way tie between himself and his two contemporaries, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. While looking at numbers is the easiest route to proclaiming the greatest of all time, a closer look as the career stats for each of these players reveals that the player least likely to be the GOAT may very well be just that.

Here are the total career wins for each of these players in the four grand slam events:

 

Djokovic Federer Nadal
Australian 9 6 2
French 2 1 13
Wimbledon 6 8 2
US Open 3 5 4

 

As you can see, each player has held an advantage in a different event, with only the U.S. Open appearing to be a “neutral site” event for the champions of Melbourne, Paris and London. Nadal has seen nearly two-thirds of his title come on clay, while Federer and Djokovic have had at least 40% of their titles come on grass or in the summer heat of the season’s first grand slam event.  Because of Nadal’s dominance in Paris, Federer was only able to secure one French Open title in 2009 to complete the career grand slam, while Djokovic won the event in 2016 and 2021.  Because of his all-out style of play on the clay, Nadal has often been fatigued when arriving in England for Wimbledon, a place where he has only won twice, and his counterparts have tallied 14 career wins.

A look at their records away from the limelight of grand slams shows that all three of these players are equally as dominate, with each having between won between 82-83.5% of their singles’ matches.  Each also ranks in the top five in tournaments wins with Federer leading the field with 103, Nadal 4th with 90 and Djokovic 5th with 86.  (Keep in mind that Federer is already 40 while Nadal is 35 and Djokovic is 34 years old.)

As someone who LOVES Rafael Nadal and the animated passion that he brings to an otherwise boring sport, it pains me to say that because of his lopsided resume, he can’t be the GOAT of men’s tennis. I say this since tennis is just not meant to be played on clay and many of the top players avoid the French Open because it is an atypical event and is played so close to Wimbledon, which has often been a more coveted prize in my lifetime. As I thought about it and looked at their careers, it is difficult for me to say that the younger Novak Djokovic hasn’t already equaled his elders at a younger age, and, if he can stay healthy, will surpass them in career wins, grand slam titles, and become the greatest of all-time despite most of his career coming during the peak years of two amazing and diverse players.

If he retires today, Djokovic has had a more well-rounded career, winning everywhere in the world and finding ways to get his when the other two players struggled away from their comfort zone.  If I was to draw up a tennis career that I would want, it would be his, not Federer’s or Nadal’s since he has been a model of consistency that, in another era, would be talked about as Serena Williams is, with the Serbian probably winning 30 grand slam titles. Sorry tennis fans, but maybe not today, but before he retires, Novak Djokovic will become the GOAT of men’s tennis, Federer and Nadal on the podium among the top three in the sport’s history. 

 


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Is Rafael Nadal Now The Greatest Men’s Tennis Player Ever? | TooAthletic.com

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