Is Novak Djokovic Playing the Best Tennis… Ever?
by Ben Pronin | March 23rd, 2011, 8:57 pm

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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76 Comments for Is Novak Djokovic Playing the Best Tennis… Ever?

dari Says:

Hmmm, it didn’t feel so bad for you to call Rafa the greatest the way you phrased and structured it. But what about fed’s runs of consistency? Do they not measure up because Rafa, novak, Andy(s) and aaalll the rest were not developed to their best yet? And now that they are, fed is no longer at prime age?
I don’t usually dip into GOAT debate, I just say “fed’s goat” and leave it at that, but this is an intriguing way to approach the debate. So many can agree that fed’s best is unmatched and that keeps him, along with his #’s at this point, with the goat title for me.

Kurt Says:

To say Nadal is the GOAT is way to hasty. Sure, he has 9 GS titles and he is only 24, he has a winning record against Federer. But you have to remember the majority of his wins against Fed are on clay. Federer had 6 GS titles at the same age, so it is possible for nadal to surpass Fed in titles but what remains to be seen is Nadal’s health. He plays a game that has a serious impact on his body. Federer’s 237 consecutive weeks at no. 1 will never be surpassed let alone by nadal. I also think that Fed is gonna win a couple more GS titles making it very difficult for Nadal to catch up. Federer is the GOAT. Nadal is a shoe in for at least 3 more French open titles but it is gonna get harder and harder to continue to win on hard courts with the likes of Del potro/Djokovic in the running. You cannot take anything away from what nadal has done so far but he cannot even be in the GOAT debate yet it is to early. What if Fed wins 3 or 4 more GS in the next 3 years. You may think it is crazy to say but I bet if you asked anyone on tour, including Nadal they would say it is viable.

skeezerweezer Says:


Your worst write EVER. Inconsistencies and contradictions abound in it.

“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.”


“I personally believe Federer is capable of playing better tennis than anyone, ever, including Nadal.”

Capable? You sayin he hasn’t already done it? Like set the Bar in orbit? Like he hasn’t proved it with 16 slams, a zillion semis in GS’s, and the period of 2004-07, because Rafa had 1 great year? Your jokin right? The only thing Rafa is historically consistent is at dominating is CLAY. C’mon man!

Then you bury your self by concluding;

“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”

Your meaning these last few years right? Not EVER. I am not so sure of your point here….

Do I need to point you to Feds wiki? Tell me again HOW LONG has Rafa been consistent at the top? And how long has Fed? C’mon man!

And then ya start goin on Racket head sizes and such, and Fed has been playing through the dominant years where he had with the smallest head size racket on tour! C’mon man!

Peggin Rafa now as the best tennis player ever? Wow

Can hardly wait till the likes of steve-o, Dave, blank, Daniel, etc get a hold of this write up. Hee haw……

Fed dominating the scene for sooo long and with consitency unmatched in the history of the game and coming out of it with 16 slams……and there are ones to claim someone else so quickly as better…wow….wow….wow.

Nuff said. I am gonna grab a cool one and settle down and post later…..geez Ben!


Voicemale1 Says:

Let me get this straight. You pose a question in the title about Djokovic, then hedge on the answer by saying “perhaps”. Then you make a claim that Nadal, by virtue of being currently #1 in the world and therefore “..he must be the best tennis player ever”. Then you add to all this by claiming that Federer is “..capable of playing better tennis than anyone, ever, including Nadal”. What gobbledeygook. And certainly gutless. If you’re going to pose the question of “best ever”, name one guy and talk about only him. Here in this nonsense, you itch to make the proclamation of “best ever” and then proceed to build a case for three guys, and all of them current players to boot. As if you’re afraid to be wrong, so you sprinkle in other potential names as CYA of your thesis in case the rest of the year your proclamation here turns to crap. Sheesh.

Man up Ben. If you think Nadal is the best ever (which he’s not), then write the entire piece on why you think that’s true (although this whole GOAT crap is exactly that – crap). And Djokovic, by the way, has basically only repeated what he did in 2008 thus far. He didn’t get to #1 then either. To make the assertion Djokovic “perhaps” is playing the best tennis ever when all he’s done is what he did do once before is..nuts.

Ben Pronin Says:

Thanks for the guidelines?

I think the top 3 guys are all on the same level right now, well above the rest of the field. The difference between them is minuscule, so it’s really not as simple as saying one guy is the best. But if I had to pick one at the moment, I’d say it’s Nadal.

skeezerweezer Says:


Understood on your last post but that is NOT what you said in your write…just sayin’…peace

kurt & VM1


CONSISTENCY: 237 weeks, thats over 4 YEARS consecutively at #1. Anyone playing today have that? How quickly we want to dump the GOAT for someone else who has, like, excuse me, what credentials that compare?

steve-o Says:

“The most important aspect of being a successful tennis player is consistency.”

Judged by “consistency”, Federer is still far and away the best.

Federer’s 2007 season is the “worst” of his three-major years, and if you really, really, REALLY insist on making the comparison with Nadal’s best season, 2010, here it is:

Federer 2007 (8 titles)

3 Grand Slams (AO, W, USO)
2 ATP Masters (Hamburg, Cincinnati)
1 ATP 500 (Dubai)
1 ATP 250 (Basel)
1 YEC (Shanghai)

Win-loss: 68-9 (88.31%)


Nadal 2010 (7 titles)

3 Grand Slams (FO, W, USO)
3 ATP Masters (Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid)
1 ATP 500 (Tokyo)

Win-loss: 71-10 (87.65%)

Federer’s 2004 and 2006 seasons are far above his 2007 season in number of titles and win-loss percentage; I’ll leave it to you to look the numbers up. Rest assured, they’re quite gaudy.

Don’t forget the 237 consecutive weeks at #1, the longest ever continuous period at the top. Or 23 consecutive major semifinals and 18 of 19 straight major finals, and 10 consecutive major finals. Or 24 straight wins in tournament finals. Or the Open Era win streaks on grass and hard courts…and so incredibly on.

So if you are looking for consistency, Federer is your man. On clay Nadal is insanely consistent, he has the 81 match win streak on clay, and, I’m sure his career win-loss percentage is 95% or above on that surface.

But Federer has redefined the meaning of the word “consistency.”

Swiss Maestro Says:

what is last “few years”? a time-span that will show only Nadal as the number one? so it is not 3 months or 6years but 1year so nadal comes out as no.1 even if you take 2years, nadal is not the clear cut no.1?

nadal beating anyone anytime? let us hope he is not injured or withdraws from that match – it is a HUGE part of tennis/any sport to be fit. this is guy who cannot play 5 slams in a row in peak fitness! please!

and check his record in a tournament that only the top 8 players in a year play. you will get an idea what his record will be in a tournament where top 8 players of all time will play.

nadal has winning records against federer and djokovic only because the other two are better on clay than he is on hardcourts.

look at this, every year fed, nadal and djokovic play about 15 common tournaments of which only 3 (20%) are on clay. yet fed and nadal or djokovic/nadal have played 50% of their matches on clay. that shows how nadal is more of a 1 surface player than federer/djokovic.

instead of federer/djokovic, if sampras played in this era, he would never have played rafa on clay, at all. and he would have a 6-4 H2H like federer or maybe even better. does that make sampras the best ever? i dont think so.

even the agassi-sampras H2H is skewed because of sampras’ fast surface bias. just taking their grandslam meetings, they met 7 times on fast surfaces (wimbledon/us) and only 3 times on slow surfaces (french/australian). needless to say, sampras won the 7 meetings on fast surfaces and agassi the 3 matches on slow surfaces.

maybe if you have a one-surface dominant player like sampras/nadal and a more complete player like federer/agassi/djokovic, the H2H will tilt in the one-surface player’s way.

puckbandit Says:

Headline Alert!!! Today’s tennis players are better athletes and playing their sport at a higher level then paste greats.

Oh, and by the way, so are today’s baseball players, today’s hockey players, today’s soccer players, today’s football players and tiddlywink player and poker player . . .

The GOAT debate is, always has been and always will be, an absurd waste of time.

Also, the roundabout way this article was written had me dizzy by the third paragraph.

Swiss Maestro Says:

If you want to claim that djokovic/murray are better competitors than roddick/hewitt – i don’t think there is clear cut evidence.

hewitt had a winning record against nadal till a few years back and you could call their rivalry at best even.

roddick beat murray in their biggest match to-date at wimbledon 2009. he has a winning record against djokovic.

so which is the weak era?

John Lossly Says:

Great article!

As though I feel the title is a little bit misleading, I did enjoy the content of the article. It is a clear fact that todays players are clearly better than those of years past and that is almost completely due to the new technology that is now brought to the table.

Every time I personally purchase a new head racquet I am always making sure it’t the most up to date and every time I hear the science behind these racquets I’m just purely amazed. So I definitely respected that point.

So its just indisputable that the level of play now is much better than the days of Laver and even Pete Sampras. So if one was looking at it with that point of view, they would assume that the current number one in the world should be the GOAT. I thought Ben created an interesting way to look at it that isn’t commonly observed.

While Ben never clearly stated who is the best of all time, he did point the finger to the obvious three. Also, I feel its nice to finally enter Djokovic to this long lived debate. The three which include Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic all have there own personal numbers and such that could prove them to be one of the greats, so this is why I cannot fault Ben for not pointing to just “one guy” like Voicemale1 repeatedly complained about. It is simply imposable to say who is the best player of all time, but using the type of logic that Ben used, it is clear that Nadal could be the GOAT.

I am personally not a Nadal fan and I don’t usually like to read articles that glorify him to much, but Ben did have a good point. He was simply pointing out how the players of today are clearly playing better than the players did in 2005 or 2006 where Roger Federer no doubtingly thrived and peaked. But what makes Nadal’s run any less miraculous and also considering his current competition. Nadal has been nearly unbeatable in the last few years and thats a big reason I don’t really enjoy watching him play.

If you could recall there was a simulated fight between Rocky Marciano and Mohamed Ali to decide who was the greatest fighter of all time. They wanted to decide using the same equipment who would win in there prime. It is very difficult to do such a thing in tennis considering how nowadays we completely base our games around our racquets and this wasn’t much different in the old days. But if we did have Nadal playing in his prime against the older players, even a few years ago, who could really beat him.

It also can’t be over looked how well Djokovic has been playing over the coarse of the 2011 season, but when it comes down to it in there primes, Nadal would defiantly win.

So I completely agree with Ben’s logic that with the level of todays game, Nadal could be the GOAT.

Skeezerweezer Says:

@puckbandit ,


Again another contradiction. You say that “Today’s tennis players are better athletes…etc?”

But yet Fed is playin in it currently and only a little over a year ago won a GS, and beat up the current top 5 in a “only the best” specialized tourney. This is AFTER his best years according to some, or most. He is still playing at a top level.
GOAT is a simple decision. How? Two criteria, one, of which, is the most important.
1- your peers, past and present. Our opinions don’t count. Why? Are we pros who have played with the greats? No. Are they qualified? Yes
2- records and achievements.


I have no problem continuing this debate…now till records are matched and then some…..anyone who wants to argue it as of NOW criteria , bring it. Will it change? Maybe.
But not now. Give the respect and credit where it is due, no matter how much you hate the guy or love your fav.

Now if one wants to argue that Novak or Rafa is playin tennis better than anyone now that is not something to argue……it’s obvious…that is why they are #1 and 2 respectively

blank Says:

One should judge a players performance based on his achievements against an entire field, over an entire career. It’s very easy to fall into a trap or mislead people by bringing in head to head comparisons when what matters is performance against the field over time and not performance against each other. Let’s look at some examples and get a dose of reality:

1. Federer has a losing record to Nadal: True, the match-up isn’t great. Despite the fact that Fed is 5 years older, it can be argued that Nadal has an advantage over Federer when they play each other. Does is make Nadal better than Federer? From the time Nadal won his 1st GS, how long has Fed been No. 1 and how many GS did he win since Nadal won 2005 FO? Since 2005 FO: Federer 12; Nadal 9.
2. Just because Federer keeps playing and his head to head record against Nadal, Djoko and Murray keep looking less and less impressive, does that make him overall a lesser of a player compared to the others? This is when H2H comparison is downright misleading and stupid.
3. If Nadal ends up with 16 or more GS at the end of his career, then there is no argument. He would be the GOAT. But how realistic is that? Time will tell.
4. If Fed were the same age as Nadal/Djoko, could he have had the same success he has had so far? If Nadal was not injured, could he have had more success that what he has had so far? If both Nadal and Federer weren’t there, would Djoko have run amok? Scroll down…

‘If “ifs” and “buts” were pots and pans, then we would need no tinkers’. Simply put wishing for things is useless.

I appreciate the argument against the whole ‘GOAT’ debate. But if there is any validity to it and if we do want to call someone a GOAT, with the way things are, I’d be amazed if someone calls anyone other than Fed as the GOAT. So I am with skeeze on this one.

Thomas Says:

” 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.”

That is BS. Agassi is being humble. Quite bluntly, he would carve up all of the top 10 players today in his prime.(with the exception of federer and nadal) He would also have had his fair share of wins over federer and nadal as well.

blank Says:

I agree with you Thomas.

To compare players, instead of always pitting past players with the current ones in the current world, why not for a change argue what if Nadal and Federer were given wooden racquets and all the non hi-tech gear and asked to play with those Rosewall and Laver in they were in their prime. Just like the any other comparison, whatever one comes up with here, will be mostly BS too. Comparing players from different eras, different age groups to just prove a hypothetical point is nothing but a waste of time and wishful thinking on the part of the person making that argument.

blank Says:

All the grammatical s**t above tells me it’s time to shut up and go to sleep!

Eric Says:

To claim that Djokovic is playing the best tennis ever is ludicrous. That’s beyond even McEnroe level exaggeration and way off into the loony-sphere. Djokovic is certainly playing remarkably well at the moment, but the best tennis ever? Come on, he barely beat Federer, who’s been looking like a less consistent Gilles Simon lately.

That said — the GOAT debate is, of course, one of those knots we sports fans love to just keep on tying. The idea isn’t to resolve it – it’s just the love of the argument!

But you can still establish a reasonable framework for the debate – or a set of methodological principles, if you prefer. There’s no real right way to do it, because some people might want to just plug in wins and losses and look at the records, and others are more willing to admit subjective judgments (“Federer plays beautifully! Rafa never gives up!”) into the proceedings.

The real problem is comparing eras, because it’s manifestly true that athletes, in general, over time have been both (a) more fit (thanks to improved training techniques and science) and (b) better at their sports (thanks to increasing pressure, dedication, training, and plenty of other factors). So clearly it’s true that even the best players from the 1960s would get owned by anyone in the top 100 today, is my guess. SO you have to make a decision: when comparing eras and the best from eras, do you pretend that you can match them off against one another at their primes through time travel? Or do you try to consider their relative dominance to the fields they actually faced given their historical situation? The latter course seems obviously more fair, otherwise (as the hysterical sports journalists would have it anyway) the best player of the last month really would indeed be the best of all time…

And yeah, I believe that Agassi could kick Djokovic’s ass. No question.

Nadal fan Says:

This weeek on this site, the #1 player ‘in the trunk’ is Federer?
“Could never beat Nadal, now can’t beat Djokovic too. Becoming No. 1 again a fantasy?”

I think even a Nadal fan & an anti Fed person would resent this statement. 8 wins against Nadal count for nothing? How many times have Fed & Rafa played on clay? on grass? indoors? Then Fed’s 4 wins again Novak last year were meaningless cos he can’t beat him “now”?


Ruth Says:

I enjoyed reading and agree with many of the comments about the confusing aspects of this article. I am a HUGE Djokovic fan, and I think he has been consistently under-rated by many. But the empirical data simply makes it clear that by any standard of comparison, Fed is the GOAT. Nadal may prove to be, but he is a long way behind the numbers the Fed has accumulated. Djokovic is a terrific player who deserves his new ranking, and was one of the first players to consistently push Roger and Rafa, but he is way behind both of them in pure numbers, slams, titles. That too may change, but he would have a really long way to go to catch up with Roger and a long way to go also to catch up with Rafa. However, I do wonder why we worry so much about these comparisons. I was there to watch in person both the semi-final and final at Indian Wells. I rooted and was thrilled for Novak, I cheered for every great point Rafa made (there were so many), I was delighted to catch all the familiar flashes of brilliance displayed by Roger, and overall I just count myself so lucky to be watching tennis in an era where the field is so deep, with so many wonderful players. Perhaps we should simply be enjoying one of Greatest Tennis Eras ever (is it the GTE?), rather than worrying too much about who gets to be the GOAT!

Liz Says:

Ben – the GOAT cannot be truly known until everyone’s careers are over and done with.

Btw, it’s ‘burn me at the STAKE’, not steak!!

fern Says:

No, Djokovic in NOT playing the best tennis ever, Rafa threw that final away with serving poorly and Djokovic got lucky with his matches at IW.

Rafe beat him just the day after in Bogata. Rafa is the best player in this era.

fern Says:

Kurt Says:

To say Nadal is the GOAT is way to hasty. Sure, he has 9 GS titles and he is only 24, he has a winning record against Federer. But you have to remember the majority of his wins against Fed are on clay.


So what, is clay not tennis? Has Rafa not beaten Federer on h/c and grass as well?

Rafa is the best player in the current era.

Lenny Says:

Okay, I hate to break it to everybody, but we haven’t yet come to the end of all time. So until that happens, all GOAT discussions are moot. But still fun. So go on ;) :P

brian Says:

Love Novak..Hope he can wins lots of slams !! Roger is great and will go down as one of the greatest ever..if not…the only problem is Nadal is there to take the honor from him !!!!

Dory Says:

Lol what’s the obsession with “ever”? Haven’t you got ways to write better articles?

Paul Says:

Fed could play for sure but he won a lot when the competition was not what it is today.
Interesting how Rafa has dumped Fed like a bad habit now that Novak is no.2. Fed is a pompous, arrogant type who never credits his opponent (navratilova). On the court class, off it a wan…

grendel Says:

The GOAT thing will never go away (human nature)even though it is, for all the reasons eloquently outlined by TennisX posters, inherently unresolvable. One could imagine in time to come cults springing up devoted to leading GOAT candidates, complete with ritual, ceremony, places of worship and pilgrimage,a body of arcane knowledge withheld from the mere masses (the real story concerning the vexed question of Nadal’s holy knees, for example) and an evolving apparatus of domination to deal with issues such as apostasy – that is, switching allegiance from one candidate to another.

grendel Says:

Further to the above, systems of doctrine would of course be formulated, minor infringements of which would exact certain minor penances, rather along the line of intoning 20 “Hail Mary’s” – something of this sort. Raising doubt about fundamental doctrine, however – for instance, questioning the reality of Federer’s mono – would be dealt with severely entailing, indeed, the ultimate penalty.

grendel Says:

b.t.w., it seems to me that you can question some of Ben Pronin’s judgements – such as who is the more consistent player – but the fact that he appears to slide from one position to another simply reflects the complexity of the issue. There are so many variables that no unambiguous conclusion is remotely possible imo, and I think Ben has done an honest job in attempting to take the differing types of data into account.

If he had come to a simple and clear conclusion – that’s when he would have deserved the brickbats hurled at him. Good job, Ben – got people thinking.

jane Says:

Provacative title…clearly. Some interesting speculation too. You certainly got people talking Ben.

Patty Says:

Or Nadal might never win another slam and Novak will bypass him OR Novak might be like Roddick and Hewitt and treasure what few slams he has OR Murray might suddenly wake up and bypass them all OR some youngster will come along and win 20 slams.

Ben Pronin Says:

Misinterpretation abound. I didn’t say Nadal is the GOAT, I said he’s playing at the highest level of tennis that’s ever been played. Federer and Djokovic are there with him but I think he’s still above them, by the thinnest margin, for the time being. Federer’s greatest years came almost 5 years ago now. The level of tennis is even higher now than it was back in 2006, that doesn’t mean the competition is “tougher” though, but the standards are much higher. And Federer is the MAOAT, easily. The GOAT title is nonsense, it doesn’t exist. You can’t just proclaim someone as the greatest, it’s impossible. But we can look at the numbers and the level of play.

Daniel Says:

I have to be mean here: Ben is suffering along with grendel of Nadalits. The new found Nadal supremacy and he can only lose when injured. C’mon, this is a clear example of tennis moto: What have you done for me lattely?!
Judge the GOAT debate in less than 2 years. Oh, and as much as Djoko is playing great, his matcdhes and Nadals, are onedimension, clearly thge best base line contest in long rallyes, but only in the last games, we saw a drop shot, Djkoko serving and coming to the net, and Nadal with a few slices. IS always the same, point after point.
Nadal in his prime won 2 hard titles in the last 24 months (Tokyo and US Open – which I think was the easiest draw any Grand Slam champion have ever had – not his fault) and Ben says he can beat anyone, anyday?! In his prime he lost 2 hard finals to the two person ranked below him, WTF 10 and IW 11 (his credit, he won a set agaisnt the players in unbelievable strides).
It will goes as has been for years. Nadal will win several titles between MC and Wimby, and fade the rest of the season with one or two ressurgances.
Even in Wimby Nadal is not a lock, if someone with belief shows strong in the first week, when the grass is freshs and he is still vulnerable, he can be upset. All his Wimbledon runs he faced a close 5 or 4 setter along the way.

And to say Djoko is playing the best tennis that has ever being played?! No way, Fed did it, by miles. Maybe you need to see old matches of Fed, which you didn’t mentioned in your former greats re-watchs. But this is personal taste.

The credit here goes to the Sean Randall nature of this piece, as grendel mentioned. A polemic theme, with a weird aproach just to ignite discussion, which is good.

Dory Says:

What in the world is MAOAT? Most Amazing of All Time?

Skeezerweezer Says:

“The GOAT title is nonsense, it doesn’t exist. You can’t just proclaim someone as the greatest, it’s impossible”

Are all these guys nonsense?;wap2

This was documented in 2007, and as time moves on, so will the GOAT debate.

I’d still take the word of ex players/current players who’ve won multiple slams and been world #1. There’s no shortage of those who’re willing to crown Fed GOAT ( as of now ), ask them if its nonsense.

Miki Says:

Writing here for the first time, hello everyone!

As a Serb and a Djokovic fan, I have to say no, he doesn’t play best tennis ever, not by a long shot. Not saying that he isn’t capable of it, but all the hype about him right now came from these 3 titles, which is not enough to even consider him as someone playing best tennis ever. I agree that he is playing great lately, but only in a few sets this year he showed really amazing tennis, but overall, it’s not an out-of-this-world-tennis. Game wise he has improved, but the main change was his mind. He is a bit underrated regarding the Indian Wells title, cause everyone says Rafa served was really bad, which btw he did, but Novak didn’t play great either. But he pushed himself, won that second set and Rafa then disappeared from the court. That’s exactly what happened so many times when Novak found himself on the other side. But this time he managed to withstand the pressure. Don’t think that Rafa is mentally unbreakable, he is a human after all. The same would be AO semi’s with Roger, remember second set?

And the problem with GOAT thing is that the standards are not established, you know, there’s no tennis law saying what makes the GOAT. Roger’s accomplishments tell us that he is the GOAT, and I agree with that. Saying that he would be less successful if he was on his peak now when tennis is more competitive then 5-6 years ago is wishful thinking, he didn’t choose when he was going to peak, or to be born for that matter. He did his thing when he needed to and that is all what matters. I was wondering about a similar question regarding Djokovic. You know, would he be the “Federer” of this decade if there was no Nadal and Fed? Tough question, and the answer is maybe, but would anyone like that? I don’t think so, and I wouldn’t like that either. In fact, I wouldn’t like to see anyone of them alone. Fed without Rafa isn’t Fed, and vice-versa. The same is with Djokovic, he wouldn’t be what he is without them. He learned from them, and because of them he pushed himself to improve more and more. The rivalry of all them and especially Fed and Rafa is very important, they push each other to their limits.

Ben wrote a confusing article but I share his opinion on Nadal when it comes to the level of tennis. I think that Rafa at his best plays mind-blowing tennis, which I think no one is capable of except him. That said, the reality is that he can’t play like that all the time, and it’s unreal to expect that players like Fed and Nadal play against each other at their best all the time. In fact, I believe that happened in a small percentage of their matches. Imagine a hypothetical situation with Federer vs Nadal, both at their very best day of their lives. I guess I would die from pure awesomeness :D:D:D

blank Says:

Ben says “…The level of tennis is even higher now than it was back in 2006…”

Of course it is. Also the level of tennis in 2006 was better than 2000 which was better than 1990 so on and so forth. But what’s your point? Are you trying to say that the best player of 2011 is better than the best player of 2006 or 1940 or whatever? Then that means, people who played with wooden racquets should never be considered in any kind of greatness debate.

This is nonsense. What point are you trying to make Ben? In convoluted (and misleading terms) are you just trying to state the obvious facts: Nadal is the best player currently and Djokovic is the best player at the moment?

blank Says:

Ben, How do you even know that Nadal or Djokovic is playing tennis at the highest level it has ever been played? Have you been around forever…since tennis began? You seem to be very sure about this.

contador Says:

LOL……..thanks to grendel for making me laugh with your @7:55 am post!

Ben=very good at stoking the fire. should correct that “burned at the steak” to read “burned at the stake.” was getting a picture of a filet mignon in flames.

goat debate is too subjective. rafa fans, federer fans, anyone’s greatest ever will vary and what is considered objective data doesn’t stand a chance next to emotions and one’s reasons for a personal taste and favorite. i don’t care how many slams or records rafa breaks…he’ll never be my greatest of all time. and i know many rafa fans feel the same way about rafa: no matter how many slams or weeks at no. 1 federer has, rafa is their greatest of all time.

furthermore, we all know technology will keep evolving, athletes keep improving, therapies to keep athletes in the game are developing, and athletes who previously would have sustained career ending injuries will be able to continue. ( the best example currently in tennis is rafa )

it’s absurd to compare era to era and try to make up a story of how so and so would do if bla bla bla…maybe it’s an interesting fantasy though, for some.

for the moment novak and rafa are playing the best tennis. that’s my impression taken away from watching tennis in IW.

both of them and others may have the potential to break federer’s records. others may have the potential ( maybe someone yet to be born, lol ) will break rafa’s clay records. tough to imagine, and we all may be dead by then, but…

how can anyone other than a nole devotee say he’s playing the best tennis “ever?” he has been playing better tennis than the others at the top right now. maybe he continues to do that for the rest of 2011? or maybe rafa dominates clay again? it’s only a guess who will be #1 at year end right now.

personally i like this time in tennis. sure i miss the glory days of federer’s best because federer’s tennis makes him the greatest of my time to ME. but every players time comes to an end. tennis keeps going. i still love tennis…even if my bracket picks all lose today.

Queen Says:

OMG…look at all the Fed fans raising hell. Djokovic did not say Fed is the best ever. How could he! I bet most of you hate him now. lol
I do not even understand why would somebody made the comparison who has been the greatest. They all were for different reasons.

skeezerweezer Says:


errr he has….

June 30 2010 Wimby interview…

“NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, I mean, Federer is the best player that ever played this game. And still to be able to play this way after he has won so many Grand Slams is just great. I mean, you have to give him credit for everything he has done. So it’s normal for him to lose. I mean, you guys, you know, you think he shouldn’t lose at all? I mean, you have to congratulate to Berdych for playing that well.”

and go ask your Fav…

As far as Novak hate, I wouldn’t assume….I for one think the guy is awesome and love his style of play.

just sayin….

Queen Says:

Yea skeez I guess Djokovic chenged his tune since then or rhather this whole debate is just so ridiculous that it is not even worth writing about. Anyhow, thanks for the links and all that report who said what but I do not think I really care. My observation was that Fed fans seem to be very vocal about it like it was an insult or something. Just sayin…

Howard Says:

Smart, lucid and solid commentary.
A quick note on Borg, though. It seems he almost never bothered to play the Australian. Had he done so, it’s almost certain that he would have added more slams, maybe quite a few more slams.
Always fun in tennis, as in your hypothetical about Borg v Nadal to think of what might have been.

skeezerweezer Says:

Queen…agreed I’m done :)

stu Says:

All the tennis greats we talk about have a few phases in their careers during which they are unbeatable…In terms of capitalizing on that phase (i.e winning as many tournaments as possible), Roger still beats the current men on tour.

Longest match winning streaks (all surfaces)
1 Guillermo Vilas (Argentina) 46 1977
2 Ivan Lendl (Czechoslovakia) 44 1981-82
3 Björn Borg (Sweden) 43 1978
4 John McEnroe (U.S.) 42 1984
5 Roger Federer (Switzerland) 41 2006-07
6 Björn Borg (Sweden) 38 1979-80
7 Thomas Muster (Austria) 35 1995
8 Roger Federer (Switzerland) 35 2005
9 Rafael Nadal (Spain) 32 2008
10 Rod Laver (Australia) 31 1969

Of course, there are a number of other things to consider, such as the level of competition in the field during the players winning phase. Which is the main reason I don’t think Djokovic will make this list. He would have to win Miami AND Monte Carlo to tie Rafa’s 2008 streak…. which would involve beating 2 of the players in the list, and others playing at the level of some of the players on the list….

Karthick Says:

Guys, Federer is still the GOAT as of now, as his records proves. And as nadal itself said, comparing him with Federer for GOAT debate is absolute stupidity. So lets not be stupids. Comparing Roger with Rafa/novak at this time is complete waste of time and energy. Lets wait for couple of years and see what comes from his mouth about GOAT, when Federer retires at that time. I am Rafa fan for the past 6 years and i wish to see him taking over Roger’s records. But need to wait and time has to answer that!!! Vamos Rafa!!!

stu Says:

In Ben’s defense, he did say:
“Federer is definitely the most accomplished player, something easily proven by his numbers.”

I guess the point is that numbers don’t (necessarily) tell the whole story. And consistency, too, cannot be measured with numbers and by winning streaks. The Federer of 2006-7 would probably not win 41 consecutive matches in the current tennis climate.

While it’s hard to come up with a way to factor in all these imbalances and arrive at an objective conclusion, I think Ben does a good job of pointing out all the things to consider…

scineram Says:

Ben, are we using the fastest computers… ever?

blank Says:

Ben, are we using the most advanced tennis racquets…ever?


Does it make the tennis of yesteryears stupid and always lesser?

Lulu Iberica Says:

Ben is just stirring the pot. Rafa is my fave, but I think Fed is the Greatest So Far (as much as that can be known considering different eras) based on his records, consistency over several years, and level of dominance over the rest of the field for so long. Fed is also great to extremely good on every surface, and I think Rafa would have to win more grass and hardcourt slams and/or masters to match Fed’s well-roundedness. I honestly don’t know enough to compare Rafa to the past greats, except in terms of # of Grand Slams, etc, and I think he’ll catch everyone except maybe Pete and Rog. Fed fans, don’t you think Federer’s best ever tennis was better than Rafa’s and Djoker’s best ever tennis? Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention before 2007, which I’ve heard many Fed fans say was the start of Fed’s slight decline. I know that IW final was certainly not the best tennis ever played, although Djoker is the best at the moment. Bottom line, I think Fed is GOAT, Rafa has a chance to become GOAT maybe, but is the 2nd greatest of his generation, while Novak could potentially match Rafa’s greatness (probably not Fed’s), but right now it’s way too early to put his name next to theirs.

Shivik Says:

Talking about consistency. Nobody can match the consistency that the Great Fed achieved.23 grand slam semifinals on the trot.I think you are wrong.On the consistency front Federer is way ahead of Nadal.

puckbandit Says:

Since I seem to have a strong desire to waste some time LOL – I will add the to the discussion:

We use Grand Slam wins as a primary measure for greatness, correct?

So you really can’t consider comparing todays players, who consistently play (if healthy) all 4 slams per year. Remember that in the early years, many players skipped the Australian completely, and the French as well – but to a lesser extent.

I think Johnny Mac didn’t even play Australia until 1983. Considering it was played on grass back then, it isn’t a stretch to think that he could have bagged a couple of those championship. Same with Connors, who I believe skipped AO and Wimbledon. In fact, the whole field of top players boycotted Wimby in 1973 or so.

One last note. Laver turned pro and didn’t play slams for five years between his for Grand Slam sweep in 1962 and his second in 1969 during the open era.

Finally, there are some that would consider Pancho Gonzales as the best, but he spent his prime as a pro in the split era.

dave Says:

Pronin: “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.”

The reality and numbers do not support your opinion.

Federer was consistently greater than all other players from 2004 to 2007, far more than Nadal has been since 2008. Nadal’s best year 2010 remains inferior to at least three of Federer’s best years in terms of titles, finals, win-loss, top ten players beaten, etc. Also consider that Nadal most dominated last year between March to July, during a spell when his toughest challengers were coincidentally in a slump (Federer, Djokovic, Murray) or injured (Del Potro, Davydenko). At least Djokovic is dominating now during a phase when the top players were mostly playing well.

How has Federer performed after Nadal first reached No. 1 in 2008? Federer’s results since 2008 have been compromised by illness (mononucleosis, lung infection) and back injury. Yet, between September 2008 and January 2010, Federer won the equivalent of a career grand slam of all four Grand Slam championships within a span of 6 slam tournaments. This is the fastest in history any player has won a boxset of those four tournaments outside of the calendar year grand slams achieved by Donald Budge and Rod Laver. Federer was finalist in three other slams during this period (2009 Australian Open and US Open, probably due to injured back). In other words, Federer has been to more Grand Slam finals (8-6) than Nadal in this period, and his losses before finals compare favourably with Nadal’s record when he loses before a final. As well, Federer has been the weekly No. 1 for almost 50% of the 3+ years since 2008 (the supposed dawn of the Nadal era). After 2010 Wimbledon, Federer has the most ranking points, most titles, most wins, least losses in the past eight months. Djokovic is number two, Nadal three.

Federer did not allow Nadal or any other player to challenge his domination of the overall tour from 2004 to 2007 in the way that Nadal has allowed Federer to still shine since 2008. Nadal’s track record remains inferior to Federer’s 18 of 19 Grand Slam finals, 23 straight GS semifinals, 237 straight weeks No. 1, 21 major titles (16 Grand Slam titles and 5 World Tour Finals), etc, etc. It is not even close.

Federer is right: some people have short memories.

dave Says:

Wall Street Journal’s Yale-educated mathematician Carl Bialik (aka “The Numbers Guy”):
“Reinventing The Way We Rank Tennis Players.”

In other words, when you analyze tennis players based on two years of results, Federer remains ahead of Nadal, even today. It’s easy to say that stats lie, but Carl Bialik is the WSJ’s expert on exposing the abuse of stats to misportray things.

Skeezerweezer Says:


As expected, great stuff

“Federer is right: some people(BEN) have short memories.”


Much props to you comin from a Rafa fan. And I agree Rafa could be the greatest, lets watch the story, he is in his prime…and he has much more he can do:)

Dan Martin Says:

I see what Ben is getting at and I think sure players today play at a certain level, they have better equipment, better nutritional data, better sports medicine etc. I think this is true in many sports. The Fridge was an awesome football player in the 80’s today he’d be considered too fat and slow. Today’s sprinters tend to beat times from 10 and 20 years ago. I get his point and think the distinction between best standard of play and best accomplishments is useful. Fed is in an odd spot because as posters have pointed out he did win the Aussie Open, Cincy and London in 2010 and has only lost matches in 2011 to a man on an incredible roll. So he can’t be compared to Wilander (soft-balling by today’s standards and) getting rolled in any hypothetical I can imagine. There was a stat at the 2009 French (I think) saying the average first serve speed is 10 MPH higher than it was in 1999. That is a massive jump. Forget the death of serve and volley tennis consider the conventional wisdom of the early 90’s of taking the ball early and hugging the baseline. Other than Davydenko I don’t think anyone plays the Nick B. style of the 90’s as an every point strategy any longer. The game morphs

margot Says:

Paragraphs PLEASE guys!

jane Says:

Miki, welcome. A very fair post you wrote. I agree about IW, and your thoughts on Nole in the final. Also agree that his major shift has been in his mind/confidence. His game has improved too in a few ways (speed, forehand, serve), but a lot of his streak has to do with momentum. Hopefully he has the ability now to maintain this strong level, to stay healthy, and to have a consistent year on all surfaces. Fingers crossed.


BTW, I read both Murray and Fed’s interviews here and the two of them sound calm, cool and collected. Murray, ready for a run. Fed, like a statesman – thought he handled those questions re: Martina like a pro. ;)

Miki Says:

Thanks Jane, glad you share some of my thoughts.

Regarding Novak’s game, he did improve a lot, he is flying around the court now, and his forehand is becoming more powerful, in fact it was his backhand giving him trouble at IW but his forehand was there to balance it out and earn him some tough points.

I think the main focus for him should be his health. And to stay healthy he needs a good balance of offense/defense. I think he should really spare his body from long grueling points. He has the game and groundstrokes to do so. He proved us that he can be very physical and Rafa-like, but I would like him to do that only when necessary. Rafa is a good example, his body suffered a lot because of his style. Of course, there are also genetics, and maybe Nadal was unlucky that his knees are a weak point, but why risking injuries all the time?

Thanks again for your warm welcome Jane, your name always comes to mind when I think of Novak’s fans here on Tennis-X :)I’m not completely new here, I visited Tennis-X few years ago for the first time, but never wrote anything, and now I “rediscovered” it :)

tronin Says:

Burn him at the “steak”!!!

Lmao. What a silly clown you are.

jane Says:

Agree Miki, health should be first on the list. I am glad Djoko has that doctor on staff now (the older gentleman in his team) it seems to have helped. Cheers.

Kimberly Says:

i like ben’s articles

Jeb Horton Says:

“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.”

Well, no. You actually are talking about hypotheticals as we’ll never actually see Borg play Nadal. We’ll only watch Borg play in 1979 against Roscoe Tanner.

While I understant the rhetorical debate, it should be much harder to dismiss players of the past — like Borg. Maybe insteand of suggesting how Agassi would suffer against the players of today, it might be more interesting to consider how Nadal would do with a wood racket on a fast grass court against a top flight server? Do you really think he would hold up that well?

I think players of today are playing outstanding tennis with the tools they have (rackets, string, training, etc.) And they would certainly destroy many of the top players of the past if we had asked them to step into this decade and play with their little wooden rackets.

As much as I always hated the cop-out that we can’t compare across generations, it’s unfortunately very true…and increasingly true.

I think what we can compare is the sheer physicality of today’s game and how much that has advanced over the years. There are only a few players, I suspect, in the past that might hold up under today’s conditions. Whether Borg (or others) could do that is an open question…and maybe worth considering.

There are a few greats that have competed across generations — McEnroe, Connors, Agassi are one’s that immediately come to mind. McEnroe seems to be holding up ok to players 15 years younger than him. Connors played well against players that grew up with graphite rackets. Agassi held up against top flight players well into his 30’s.

I think there are two interesting things to consider — who are the players of the past that had the physical talent to compete with the players of today? Who are the players of today that could still be effective under the conditions of the past? This would make for an interesting inter-generational discussion.

Finally, on Djokovic, he’s playing superb tennis at the moment. He’s quick, good hands, and athletic. He also has some weaknesses (how long can he serve like he does?). We’ll see how he holds up over the year. He’s certainly the guy to beat until we get to the clay and then the grass.

dave Says:

One way we can rationally compare across generations is to ask the past greats. According to my calculations, if tennis was open throughout history, then the great Australian Ken Rosewall would possibly have won about 20 majors (grand slam championships), while Rod Laver would have about 15 to 16 majors. Federer has 16 majors. Most experts consider either Federer and/or Laver as the greatest players in tennis history who have played the highest standard of tennis.

In July 2009, the great Rosewall said that Federer played at the highest standard of tennis possible, was the best of all players at the time, that Federer was greater than the only other possible tennis GOAT Rod Laver, and that Federer would be able to play very well with a wooden racquet.

In an interview in ‘Who’s the greatest? Laver or Federer? Who better to ask than Muscles Rosewall… ‘, Ken Rosewall said: ‘”It’s terribly difficult to come up with a specific answer because the strategies and the techniques of the game, and the rules and regulations, have changed so much in the last 20 or 30 years, especially with equipment. But look, I think you can’t deny the ability of the players today and obviously you would put Roger at the top of those players. I believe the players of days-gone-by would find it very, very difficult to compete against the players of today even with this new equipment. But, on the other hand, if you gave Roger Federer the old wooden racquets we used, I think he would still be very, very good. I would say the level of his play at the moment is at the highest standard you could hope to get.” So it’s Federer. Probably.’

I would think Ben Pronin would agree that Ken Rosewall knows much, much more about professional tennis than he does. Much more. And he still plays tennis at his local club.

skeezerweezer Says:


Shammooon! Nice dig on Rosewall…

dave Says:

I try, skeezer, I try :)

grendel Says:

“I would think Ben Pronin would agree that Ken Rosewall knows much, much more about professional tennis than he does.Much more”.

So everybody shut up then. Ken Rosewall has spoken. No need for anyone else to offer an opinion. The subject is closed.

madmax Says:

who cares what you think about federer ben? You change with the wind on this topic.

Novak called roger federer last year, the best player to ever have played the game.

He has called rafa that this year – that’s up to him – in the heat of an emotional moment – to call rafa that. Because rafa is great and so is novak. But the greatest? no way.

“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”.

Go hear what rod laver says about federer – rod laver who knows a thing or too more than you, says that roger is the greatest ever of his era (because we have to talk about eras dont we).

I’ll come back with the link.

grendel, not on your nellie. All subjects are open til midnight, never closed.

Ben is just in la la land having had such a long break off.

madmax Says:

one link, still trying to find the other one where you can hear the audio of what laver said about fed.

madmax Says:

Federer, who matched Ivan Lendl’s record in reaching his 19th Grand Slam final, believes he should be judged when his career is over.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know who was the greatest of all time but I’m definitely happy to be right up there,” said Federer, who plans to play into his 30s.

“I think it should be judged at the very end. I don’t know. It’s for other people to decide.”

Nina Says:

I think it all comes down to preferences and styles. Federer fans will love this guy for his brand of flashy, elegant, tennis and effortless game and so claim that he’s played the best tennis that could ever be played and wouldn’t be wrong.

But so could claim Nadal lovers who admire his incredible gutsy and combative tennis, his mental power and stamina, his restlessness, his discipline and formidable solidity. They would be entitled to think that he actually plays the best tennis that can be played and that he wouldn’t be defeated by many people, former greats and current ones. And they would be right.

And then we have Djokovic fans like myself that also believe their guy plays the best tennis ever because it’s a joy to watch him and it never ceases to captivate me and stand in awe of him. I’ve seen former greats play like McEnroe, Borg, Aggassi, Sampras… and I wouldn’t trade any of them for Djokovic. So in a sense I agree with Agassi into proclaiming this generation of tennis pros as the best ever to pick a racket. In the end it’s all down to preferences.

A lot of fans are nostalgic of S&V, I’m just relieved that it’s gone away. The other day i put on my video player the Wimbledon final between McEnroe and Borg 1980. And I felt asleep in the middle of it. I definitely would never get asleep watching Djoko, Fed or Nadal play. But as I said, it’s all down to personal preferences. And that’s why the GOAT debate, away from stats and achievements, is useless. And even then achievements don’t mean much when all these players have never got the chance to play in the same era and therefore let us know who is the best EVER.

Ben Pronin Says:

I didn’t say Nadal is the GOAT. And I also didn’t bash Federer in any way.

Daniel Says:

Possibly the worst Tennis’ articles I’ve ever read, and that’s a feat considering I’ve read a lot of Bodo’s articles.

“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.”

Nobody has been more consistently great than Federer in 2004. Or is ’04 too far away in time?

skeezerweezer Says:

this is what threw Ben, someone has to defend him. It all started with saying he plays Topspin 4

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