For those of you that don’t know, 2ksports recently released the latest tennis video game, Top Spin 4. If you’re wondering how it is, it’s extremely realistic and thus very difficult (for me, anyways). But this isn’t a video game review. The reason I bring this up is because a few days ago, I read an interview that Andre Agassi had regarding the game. He was asked what he liked about it and things of that nature and he said that he particularly enjoyed how the game was able to even the playing field between current players and former legends. He went on to say that while people can speculate all they want, he would not want to play against the current field because they have gotten too good. Aka, current professional tennis players, not just top 10, are better than the legendary Andre Agassi.
In addition to these comments, we have all recently heard Rafael Nadal call Novak Djokovic “one of the greatest” and in return, Djokovic called Nadal the “greatest ever”. Of course this has re-sparked the GOAT debate; (maybe re-sparked isn’t the right word since I’ve never actually seen the argument come to any kind of end).
So these particular comments, amongst millions of others, have made me really think about how to answer the GOAT question. Is Djokovic playing the best tennis ever? Perhaps. But if I had to peg one guy as the best tennis player ever, as in, the guy who will probably beat anyone and everyone else more times than not, it’s got to be Nadal.
Now before all the Federer fans try to burn me at the steak, let me explain.
As Agassi noted, and all other analysts constantly hammer into our heads, the game has evolved a great deal from back in the days of Rod Laver. From wooden racquets to polyester strings to bigger head sizes, etc. The new technology has unquestionably allowed players to do more and more on the court, most notably create physics-defying angles on a regular basis.
I’ve watched the legendary Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe Wimbledon final. I’ve seen an Australian Open final with Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl. I’ve seen tons of Pete Sampras and Agassi matches dating from the 1990 US Open final to the 2002 final. And most recently I saw Djokovic and Nadal face off in a couple of finals of their own. All of these players are extremely talented, always have been and always will be (just look at the senior tour). But how would the legendary Borg hope to beat Nadal? On any surface? No way he can hit through him and I highly doubt he could handle Nadal’s pace and spins.
Maybe if Borg had been born in Nadal’s generation and grew up playing with all the same technology, he would’ve been better. But I’m not talking about hypotheticals. And I’m not even saying Nadal is better or more talented, relatively speaking, than Borg. But Nadal, and Djokovic, and Federer, and every other professional tennis player out there, are all playing at the highest level of tennis that anyone’s ever seen. And with Nadal being the clear number one in the world, then he must be the best tennis player ever.
Whether he’ll go down as the most accomplished player is a different matter, however. Federer is definitely the most accomplished player, something easily proven by his numbers. Nadal’s great numbers even at such a young age don’t make him more accomplished. More impressive? Maybe, but one doesn’t necessarily imply the other.
The title asks if Djokovic is playing the best tennis ever simply because, in these first few months of the season, he’s been the best player in the world no matter what the rankings say. But to be fair, it’s not enough time to say it’s the best tennis EVER. Nadal was the undisputed number one last year playing nearly unbeatable tennis, similar to Djokovic now. But let’s wait a few months, or even until the end of the year, to give Djokovic this title.
One final thought: I personally believe Federer is capable of playing better tennis than anyone, ever, including Nadal. He showed this at the World Tour Finals last year where he absolutely thumped the entire top five. I don’t know what it would take for me to stop thinking that Federer’s best is better than anyone’s. So why do I still say Nadal is the best? The most important aspect of being a successful tennis player is consistency. And Nadal has been consistently greater than everyone in the last few years, including Federer.
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