Tennis Has the Greatest GOAT Argument

Vijay Violet
4 min readJun 28, 2021


Having just beaten Nadal at the French, Djokovic is aiming to join him and Federer by winning his twentieth major at Wimbledon this year. He is looking for a grand slam. Soon to be 40, Federer will be in his way, looking to surprise; just like Phil Mickelson surprised the golfing world by becoming the oldest ever to win a major at the age of 50 this year. Who is the men’s tennis GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)?

Every sports fan loves to have the GOAT argument in their sport. For some sports, maybe it is settled: Perhaps Tom Brady is the best American footballer ever! For some others, it is a comparison across different eras: Is Tiger Woods or is Jack Nicklaus the greatest in golf? Is Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, or Serena Williams the greatest women’s tennis champion? For yet others, the comparison is perhaps tinged with a blemish. Is Messi or Ronaldo, neither of whom has won a World Cup, the greatest? Unarguably, men’s tennis has the greatest argument for who the GOAT is. Is it Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal?

One scenario is for Djokoic, Nadal, and Federer to end their careers, separated only by a couple of majors. Federer and Nadal each have 20 majors. Djokovic has 19. A small difference in major count alone is not a sufficient argument to break the tie for the GOAT. So we look beyond the majors. The three are remarkably alike in their wins and win percentage.

At the time of this writing, Federer’s case starts with his 103 tournament wins, second only to 109 for Jimmy Connors. Federer’s win total is 15 more than Nadal and 19 more than Djokovic. The gap will shrink, but Federer will likely remain ahead. Other than majors, ATP Maters tournaments bring together the best players. Federer has six ATP Finals wins. Djokovic has five. Nadal has none.

The case for Nadal begins unquestionably as the greatest to ever play at the French Open. Nadal is the only one of the three to have a singles gold in the Olympics. Nadal and Djokovic have 36 wins in ATP Masters tournaments versus 28 for Federer. Nadal has a better head-to-head record versus Federer (24–16) and is nearly on level with Djokovic (28–30). Nadal has a better head-to head records in majors against the other two.

Djokovic is the only one of the three with at least two wins in each of the majors, i.e. he has the career grand slam twice. Nadal has only one win at the Australian and Federer has only one at the French. Djokovic has better head-to-head records against both. He has been ranked #1 for a few more weeks than Federer and for more than one hundred weeks than Nadal. Djokovic beat Federer and Nadal at their best surfaces in the most recent major encounters: Federer at Wimbledon in 2019 and Nadal at the French in 2021.

While the three have played alongside for many years, it is useful to compare their trajectories chronologically. In the five years and 20 majors from 2003 to 2007, before Djokovic won his first, Federer had won 12 majors and Nadal had won three. Federer was the best. From 2008 to 2012, Nadal led the way with eight compared to five each for Federer and Djokovic. Advantage Nadal. From 2013 to 2017, by when Federer was 30 years old, Djokovic with six majors and Nadal with five were just better than Federer, who won two. In the years since 2018, Djokovic with seven majors has been the best. Nadal has four. Federer’s lone win was at the 2018 Australian.

My prediction. Barring injuries, just like Federer won a dozen before Djokovic won his first, Djokovic will win a dozen after Federer’s last. That will mean at least five more majors. With a total haul of 24 majors and a grand slam this year, Djokovic just might end the greatest GOAT argument.

Here’s hoping for another epic Djokovic vs Federer final at Wimbledon!

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Vijay Violet

I am an American. I care about the planet, its people and animals. I care about the oppressed and marginalized. And I care about the poor, both working and not.