We have been having some good discussions again on my last post and one thing that came up again is the possibility of Nadal surpassing Roger in the GOAT debate. We have been discussing what it would take for Nadal to pass Roger in the GOAT debate among other things. Of course a lot of this is subjective, not to mention that there is no such thing as a GOAT. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate or debate. There are certain facts that can’t be denied. One of these facts is that grand slam titles is the most important measure of greatness. However, it is certainly not the only. That would imply all tennis outside of the slams are completely irrelevant in terms of determining a player’s greatness, whether it be the World Tour Finals, rankings, Davis Cup, Masters Series, Olympics, or whatever the case may be. I think it would wrong to determine greatness like that.
Now, we know Roger has won the most slam titles in history. If grand slam titles were the only determinant of greatness that would mean he is the GOAT. End of story. But what about Laver’s two calender slams? What if Laver was allowed to compete in slams after he turned pro in 1962? This is why there is no GOAT and why slam titles are not the only determinant of greatness. There are also the career grand slam which is important for the reason that it shows a player’s mastery of all surfaces. We know Nadal has won the career slam, and for that he deserves a lot of credit. But what about the fact that nine out of his fourteen slam titles came on clay? Lets look at the slam split for Nadal:
Clay – 64 .3%
Fast hard – 14.3%
Grass – 14.3%
Slow hard – 7.1 %
Now lets look at Roger’s slam split:
Grass – 41.2 %
Fast hard – 29.4%
Slow hard – 23.5%
Clay – 5.9%
Or you can split it in numbers:
Regardless of the slam count, whose resume would you rather have? You can say there are only three basic surfaces in tennis: hard court, grass, and clay. In that case Nadal would have at least two slam titles on each surface, which you could argue is more balanced than Roger who only has one slam title on clay. But even then Roger has dominated two surfaces, while Nadal only dominated one. On the flip side you can also count indoors as a surface. It is only played on hard courts these days which means you could lump it in with hard court, but in the past indoor surfaces included carpet for instance(which incidentally would have been even less forgiving to Nadal’s defensive base line game than indoor hard courts). So you could call indoors a separate surface and add the World Tour Finals(the ones that were played indoors) as the most important indoor event to our list. In this case the percentage split would look like follows for Nadal:
Clay – 64.3%
Hard court – 21.4%
Grass – 14.3%
Indoors – 0%
Hard court – 42.9%
Grass – 33.3%
Indoors – 19.1%
Clay – 4.8%
Or the number split:
There are many different ways you can split it up, but whichever way you split it up you come to the conclusion that Roger has the more balanced resume apart from the fact that he has more slam titles too. I don’t want anyone to think that I am making this post to prove that Roger is greater than Nadal in case Nadal passes his slam count. That is not what I am saying. If Nadal passes Roger’s slam count he may or may not be the GOAT. No one is going to agree anyway. What I am trying to get at in this post is that slams should not be the only measure of greatness, even though it may be the most important. And I am clearly objective enough to make a post like this, even though I consider myself a Fedfan. Everyone knows that I am his worst critic too and that I don’t have a problem crediting other players. Moreover I am not just a Fedfan. I am also a fan of other players like Djokovic and of tennis as a whole.
And although I am a Fedfan I can appreciate the fact that Nadal is for instance mentally stronger than Roger. In fact I have been considering the possibility that Nadal will surpass Roger as the GOAT because of that fact alone. But in order to do so he would have to at least equal Federer’s slam count. And I am not saying that can’t happen, but for now Roger has by far the most balanced and complete resume and therefor is without a doubt greater than Nadal. And it doesn’t matter that Agassi and Mcenroe said otherwise. If people are gonna use that as proof that Nadal is the GOAT then I can use a score of other greats who said the same thing about Roger, including Sampras, Laver, Becker, and many more. We are just going by the cold facts of the numbers here. And the numbers also say that Federer has spent a record 302 weeks as the world #1, while Nadal have not even spent half that amount at #1 at 141 weeks.
Probably the most important criteria for determining the greatest ever are number of slam titles, calender slam, non-calender slam, career slam, weeks spent at #1, and World Tour Finals titles. I think most experts would agree that those are all very important criteria in the GOAT debate. There are many others of course like Davis Cup, Olympics, and Masters titles, but those are more like second tier considerations. And if you look at the five most important criteria I mentioned then Roger has more slam titles, more weeks spent at #1, and more World Tour Finals titles. They both have one career slam and no calender or non-calender slam. So from everything that I’ve mentioned so far it should be clear that Roger not only has the highest number of all the most important criteria, but he also has by far the most balanced resume. And the latter has to count for something.
One thing I did not mention is the head-to-head between the two players, and I think I have criticized Roger enough for that. But one head-to-head record does not maketh a GOAT. Only when they are tied on slam titles should that come into play. Everyone that regularly reads this blog knows that I am not some Fed fanboy who kisses his ass 24/7 and thinks he can do no wrong. I have criticized him a lot for his head-to-head against Nadal, but that does not mean he is not greater than Nadal. For Nadal to be greater he would need to equal Roger in slam titles, win some World Tour Finals titles, and spend more weeks at #1. At the very least he needs to equal Roger in slam titles. Only then becomes the head-to-head relevant, and at this point the debate becomes very complicated. But is the head-to-head more important than weeks at #1, World Tour Finals titles, and a balanced slam resume?
That’s why I say Nadal would have to at least spend some more weeks at #1 and win some World Tour Finals titles, because at this point Roger is way ahead in those. But Nadal would also need a more balanced slam resume. He needs to win at least a few more slams on something other than clay. For me Federer has until this point been the modern GOAT. And not because I’m a fanbody who kisses ass 24/7 that thinks he is perfection in the flesh. To the contrary I think he has definite flaws. But for me the GOAT does not imply perfection. It only implies limited imperfection. There will never be a perfect tennis player, but so far Roger has come the closest I think. I always thought Nadal was the clay GOAT. He even surprised me by how well he adapted to other surfaces. But I never bought his GOATness and he still has a long way to go to convince be otherwise.
The modern GOAT spot is at this point reserved for Federer. He has the completeness as a player and in resume for it. I don’t think any objective person would refute that. But yes the debate is not over as far as Fedal goes. But as far as numbers and objectivity goes the window for Nadal to catch up is starting to close. He needs to make a move, and probably this year. He is not getting any younger and his body is not getting any stronger. So I guess the point of this post other than the fact that I just enjoy writing about these things, is that for Nadal to surpass Roger in the GOAT debate catching him in slam titles will not be enough. A head-to-head record is not more important than the World Tour Finals, weeks spent at number one, and a more balanced surface resume. Roger is the GOAT on two surfaces, hard court and grass. He has the most slam titles on hard court and the shares the record with Sampras on grass.
But he has an overall more impressive record on grass than Sampras with two more Wimbledon finals and four more grass court titles. Then you can either add indoors as an extra surface in which case Roger is probably the indoor GOAT too with the most World Tour Finals and several other indoor titles. Or you can count his World Tour Finals titles(other than 2005 which was played on carpet) as hard court titles which cements him as the hard court GOAT. So Roger is the GOAT of 2-3 surfaces while Nadal is only the GOAT of one surface. Again, dominating different surfaces is more important than one head-to-head record. I can understand why a big deal would be made of the head-to-head if Nadal equals Roger in slam count, because then there is a case for Nadal being a better player. But then weeks at #1, World Tour Final titles, and a balanced surface resume should also be taken into account.
And if Nadal does equal Roger in slam count then he may have improved in those areas. It seems unlikely though.
The ball in in your court.