Greatest of All Time (GOAT) Discussion Heats Up!

Okay, here we go, the GOAT debate assuming Djokovic wins all 4 this year, putting him at 14.  If that is the measure of the GOAT, then Rod Laver is the GOAT.  He won the calendar slam twice. Case closed.  Unless Djokovic does it twice too.  Furthermore, we do not recognize Laver’s accomplishments outside the grand slams, which because he turned professional, he did not compete in from 1963-1968, in the prime of his career (similar to Ali going to prison over the draft).  He undoubtedly would have won 7-10 more slams in that time period, but he wanted to make a better living, so he turned pro and was banned until ’68 when Open tennis started at the French Open.  Then, one year later, he won the CYGS in the Open Era, at the age of 30-31, after his prime was over.  Truly amazing, even when you take into account the time period.  Like Babe Ruth or Bill Russell, I believe Laver would have been great in any era if he had the same training as today’s athletes.  Now, some come back and say, but 3 of the 4 slams were on grass back then.  So what?  Today, all the courts are slowed down so they all play like a slow-medium paced hard court favoring Djokovic and Nadal style defense, including Wimbledon where Navratilova said at the beginning of the tournament a couple years ago, “Welcome to the French Open,” which is true when you see the decline of volley and the way they can all rally with topspin (topspin was ineffective on grass before this time period) and be successful.

 

So, really if you want to be technical, Agassi is the most accomplished slam winner with the calendar slam.  He won all four majors during a period when each surface was more different than at any other time in tennis’ history.  The grass was “ice slathered with Vaseline”, the clay was slow as always, the US Open was a fast hard court, and the Aussie was a slow hard court.  This fact is evidenced by all the different winners on different surfaces during that time, when a specialist could win on clay and a fast court player like Sampras dominated at Wimbledon, but on a given day (Richard Krajicek) at big hitter could take a top player out…that is no longer the case because all the surfaces are slower so the big servers and power players can’t upset the defensive geniuses anymore except on rare occasions (Wawrinka or Del Potro), but over the course of a 5 setter, very hard to maintain that quality of tennis against a defensive style.  Fed is the most complete here too–played very good defense and without question the greatest offensive baseliner ever, only because he had to be.  Right when he came on tour, he had to change to a more defensive style because they slowed all the courts down and that is why he did not win his first Wimbledon until he had been on tour for 4 years, he had to adjust his style, which makes his special abilities even more impressive.  Nadal and Djokovic’s success is a direct result of fortune…slower courts / balls right as they came into the game.

 

Federer holds a ton of records that Djokovic has yet to catch, the most significant being the total # of slams, pretty much the measure in tennis for all-time greatness.  But, greatness IMHO is more than that.  For me it goes to who is the most complete player who ever played and achieved greatness in practice.  Jordan is that person in basketball and although I have limited knowledge of hockey, I believe that person is Wayne Gretzky.  Neither of those men won the most titles in their sports (I know team sports are different), but they are considered the GOATs.  Federer is that man for me, really regardless of what Djokovic does.  I see the argument, but no one has ever had a game as complete as Roger.

 

Both volleys, his forehand, serve, overhead, half volley, movement, temperament, and (I know this is not supposed to matter, but it does to me) his artistry (i.e.-gracefulness and the entertainment value coupled with his accomplishments), blows all others out of the water.

 

Djokovic just not that interesting as a shot-maker.  Watching him and Murray is a snooze-fest because they are similar players in style because today’s surfaces favor that defensive style.  They do not dictate, they wait for opportunity and I’m sorry, but creativity and being the one who “makes things happen” counts.  Federer is that guy.  No counter-puncher should ever be considered the greatest in any sport if there is a player who dictates who has similar accomplishments.  Every point has similar construction.  Djokovic is mechanical, lacking fluidity, like watching a soldier play tennis.  There are examples in other sports:  Floyd Mayweather (he might be the GOAT in boxing), who is so boring although technically excellent.  I know that should not matter and if he goes on and wins 20 slams and 2 calendar slams, there’s no argument, but so long as he is behind Roger in total slams, I will not concede this fact.  I would concede that if Fed is not the GOAT, Rod Laver is, but no one else, including Nadal, Emerson, Sampras, can make a claim.

 

I also hold issue with players whose resume is heavily weighted to 1 slam.  Nadal has 14, but 9 of them are the French.  Not good.  Djokovic has evened it out, but he’s still heavily weighed to the Aussie with 6 of his 12 titles (more than half, as of now).  The other reason this hurts Nadal and Djokovic is the slams in order of importance are Wimbledon, US, French, & Aussie.  So, the French and Aussie are the lesser slams (almost every young player if not American dreams first of Wimbledon and if American sometimes puts the US as tops, even Nadal wanted Wimbledon the most).  Sometimes, Europeans argue that the French is second, but in prestige, tennis players know that the top two are Wimbledon and the US and the Aussie is without question the least of the majors.  This fact also hurts Agassi because he won 8 majors and 4 of them were Aussie Opens (half were the least important major, also true for Djokovic).  This again favors Laver and Federer who have good balance with neither having a single slam that complies half their total take.  Laver, being the only guy to win every major twice has the most balanced portfolio and should Djokovic win a second French next year, having more than one of each goes a long, long way in my book, but not long enough to make me consider his one-dimensional game the greatest.

 

Fed also faced one man who is without question the GOAT on Clay (Nadal) and that was the only sticking point for Fed not winning a CYGS two, possibly three times (granted that’s a HUGE sticking point).

 

Now, this argument bleeds into women’s tennis.  Who’s the women’s GOAT?  Serena is often cited with 21 slams.  Well, by your standard, Sam, Serena’s not even close because if at 14 with a CYGS Djokovic would be the GOAT, then Serena, to make a claim would have to get to at least 26 total slams to even be in the discussion or win the CYGS.  Steffi has 22 total slams with a GOLDEN SLAM in 1988.  If Djokovic at 14 (3 fewer than Fed) is the GOAT, then Serena would have to surpass Graf by at least 4 slams to be considered the GOAT, right?  And heck, while we’re at it, Martina, with 18 slams, won 6 in a row at one point and had the greatest single season ever record at 83-1 in 1983, so she might be the GOAT or at least second behind Graf and above Serena at the moment.  Certainly, Martina’s total accomplishments eclipse everyone else in the history of tennis with over 300 titles in singles and doubles.  For that matter, you could make a claim that McEnroe is the most complete male player with 77 singles, 78 doubles, and 1 mixed doubles title.  He also had the greatest single season record at 82-3 in 1984 (one of those loses he just gave Amritraj the match because he was exhausted from playing so many matches in a row and needed a break in a smaller event).

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One thought on “Greatest of All Time (GOAT) Discussion Heats Up!

  1. problemsolvergene says:

    From Chris Webb:
    If we’re looking at complete portfolios, then I easily would go with Navratilova and McEnroe as the GOAT. We could have it go GOAT-singles, GOAT-doubles, GOAT-all around. Martina had Evert. Without Evert, how many more does Martina win? Evert had Martina. Without Martina, how many more does Evert win? Who was Serena’s chief competition but her own interest in fitness, playing, or her injuries? A lot of really goods and greats, but no all-timers have parried with Serena on the court. Not like the troika of Fed/Rafa/Djok. If Fed doesn’t see Rafa on clay, does Fed have 21, 22? The three of them are a lot of what-ifs for each other.
    Serena didn’t have a GOAT on clay to play. Or on grass. Or on hardcourts. Maybe that’s because she’s the GOAT; I’m not certain. Graf wouldn’t have 22 without Seles’ injury. Seles wouldn’t have just 9 without being stabbed. Like Ali and Laver, Seles lost prime years of her career – first to being stabbed, then to fear. She came back and won the Aussie. I think Seles and Graf would have been at about 15-16 apiece. But I also thinkSeles would have finished with more than Graf on a level playing field.
    When Seles was stabbed, she had won 8 of the last 12 titles. She had also won 8 titles by January 1993, age 19, with her 20th birthday coming in December. She had pulled a Fed the previous two years (3 slams and in 1992 made the Wimbledon final). There’s no reason to think she wouldn’t have done the same in 1993 and 1994. And that she wouldn’t have got it together to win on the slick Wimbledon courts one of those times. Graf, at the time, had 11 titles. Seles gets stabbed, comes back to win the 1996 Aussie and trails Graf 18-9 in titles. Graf won 7 of 11, including the first 4, when Seles was out. To me, we’d put a huge asterisk by Graf’s name if we were to consider her the GOAT.
    For me doubles matters, so GOAT overall are Martina and Mac. Singles-only leaves it up for grabs. They Federer-proofed the courts, so it does lead one to wonder if that alone makes him the GOAT. Sort of like Tiger-proofing a golf course.

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