How Important was the Australian Open Final in the GOAT Debate?

Since Roger is not playing today and I have some time on my hands I felt like pondering this question. Let me just make it clear that I don’t believe there can be a GOAT, but that it is OK to debate it. There is no harm in speculating. It is fun and interesting. I think without a GOAT debate tennis would not be as interesting. I think there is a pretty good argument for either Roger or Nadal to be the GOAT because this is clearly a very strong era for tennis and both these players could have achieved even more if they didn’t play in the same era. But like I said we will never quite know who is the GOAT. I was just wondering in terms of the Fedal GOAT debate what the effect of the Australian Open final of this year had. I would say a pretty drastic one. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Nadal would win the title after the departure of Djokovic.

He faced Djokovic’s conqueror in the final who he held a 12-0 head-to-head record against going into the final. No one gave Wawrinka much of a chance but he stepped up and played the match of his life which would have far reaching consequences. Not only did he step out of the shadow of his legendary compatriot and friend once and for all with his first slam title, but he stopped Nadal from almost certainly eclipsing his friend in terms of all time greatness. Not only would a second Australian Open title have given Nadal a second career slam(something Federer could never achieve), but it would have given much needed balance to the Nadal resume which is so dominated by his clay results. It would also have put him within just 3 slam titles of Federer’s all time record.

He threw a spanner in the works…

Given that Nadal basically holds a monopoly over the French Open, it surely would have been just a matter of time before he surpassed Federer. He may even have ended up with something in the region of 20 slam titles. But the Australian Open final was a double victory for the Swiss. Stan assured another slam title for the Swiss but he also gave his Swiss friend a chance in he GOAT debate. With his head-to-head record over Roger and the straight set beat down in the semi-finals, the second career slam would have already put Nadal ahead of Roger in the GOAT debate in the minds of some people. But thank God Stan threw a spanner in the works. Not only is it good for tennis but as a fan of Roger I definitely don’t want to see Nadal surpass his records. By beating Nadal in Melbourne Stan was also able to do something that Roger has not been able to do in 7 years.

My respect has dramatically increased for Stan in Melbourne as well. I always thought he was a bit weak in the mental department but he has showed he is anything but by defeating both Djokovic and Nadal to win a slam, a feat no one has ever been able to achieve. I definitely think he is a slam contender from here on, and it makes tennis more interesting. With Nadal losing in the final of Melbourne he slips to 13-6 in slam finals too, while Roger is 17-7. Another big game changer. Roger now clearly has the better record in slam finals, and that after Nadal was 10-2 at one stage. Clearly it is not getting any easier for Nadal to win slams. If only Nadal could be defeated in the French Open again that would be a big blow to him. Djokovic has been knocking for a while. Last year he came extremely close.

…and it caused another twist in the Fedal GOAT debate.

Can he make it happen this year? Or can Stan cause another shock upset? I still think Nadal will catch up with Roger, but it is now a lot less certain. You just know at the end of the day there is gonna be a lot of debate about these two. In the head-to-head Nadal is the better player but as far as overall records go Roger’s is by far more balanced and he is still ahead in many of them. For instance he was more dominant than Nadal who relied mostly on one surface for his dominance. He has many more weeks at number one. He has 6 Masters Cup titles while Nadal has none. He has the more balanced slam resume. I think if Nadal catches up with Roger in slam titles he will probably be recognized by most as the better player, because of the dominance in the head-to-head. So I think Stan has thrown Roger a lifeline here in the Fedal GOAT debate.

Now he needs to make it count and try to win that one more slam…

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24 Comments

  1. If Nadal doesn’t win the French Open this year, I think that will go a long way towards preserving Fed’s GS record, and putting some doubts in Nadal’s head. It’s time for Djokovic to step up and win RG. If not Fed himself, Fed fans best hope for RF’s record to remain unbeaten is for Murray and Djokovic (and Stan, Delpo etc) to deny Nadal slams whenever and wherever they can.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right Sridhar the FO will be big this year. It is Nadal’s fortress and if he gets beaten again there it will be a big hit, especially after what happened at the AO. Then the guys you mentioned needs to step up because Nadal is a threat at all the slams.

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  2. Hello again, ah always nice to catch up on a couple of posts! Makes for good reading when I’m not thinking about my class, as a fellow teacher you’ll know all too well, I hope it’s going well for you out there!
    Fedal is frustrating for many because people can’t seem to understand how Rafa can possibly be the better player! But being a former junior, I know that tennis is roughly 60% mental and 40% everything else. It’s partly why I never made it myself, I knew I was a good player but my confidence is fragile and too many times in tight matches I fell away. What can I say I’m surprised I didn’t get the call from Jean Gachassin and the FFT haha ;-)
    Anyway that’s what it is, and also why Fed will always have a chance because he’s capable of being so SO clutch even against Rafa. He’ll beat Nadal again I’m sure, just whether he can over five sets… hmmm…
    Fedal’s slam race is kinda like a 10,000m, Fed’s been leading for the majority of the race but now he’s tiring just before the bell goes for the last lap… can he hold on? Has he got one last push in him? Even if Nadal edges it in the end, what a story Fed’s career has been!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    That’s right mental is by far the most important aspect of tennis, which is why I still think Nadal will catch Roger. Tennis can basically be divided into physical, mental, and talent. Nadal is Roger’s superior in mental and physical. So it would only make sense for Nadal to surpass him. That said, Roger is immensely talented and still very good in the mental and physical department. So it’s very close either way.

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  3. Let’s see, in re GOAT status, I’d say that Roger’s 17 majors is only one yardstick. Another, his incredible consistency, is unparalleled.

    I for one think his 23 consecutive semi-final appearances in majors is about as impressive as his majors total, and maybe even moreso. The record before Roger was 10 (Lendl) and before Lendl came along it was 6!

    I mention this to point out that our man Stan not only stopped Nadal from adding to his majors total, but also stopped Djokovic’s almost (except for Roger) unprecedented semi-finals streak at 14. Way to go Stan! I’m new here and I’m sure others have noted this as well. But maybe it’s worth saying more than once!

    Can Roger win the French this year? He’d surely have to have some luck. Can Nadal win at RG? I’m not sure he’s ever been more vulnerable than he is now. And his game, based on extreme physicality, should fall off rather quickly when he loses half a step. If it doesn’t, I’ll be sure to post again! :-)

    I think Roger has this year and the next to hope reasonably for a major victory. After that, it may not be out of the question, but the sun will most likely be starting to set on his chances.

    But how important was the Australian Open as a whole in terms of the GOAT Debate? Tremendous IMHO, because Stan stopped two important contenders, killing a huge streak by Djokovic as well as showing Nadal the door.

    If you weren’t already a fan of Stan’s, AO ’14 should have made you one!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good point about the Djokovic SF streak Joe. Amazing what Stan did and amazing what Fed did by making 23 consecutive slam semis. GOAT debate should definitely not only be about number of slams, even though it’s the most important thing. Roger’s consistency and dominance was unparalleled like you say. 3 years where he won 3 slams and 4 or more slam titles at 3 different slams is also unheard of. And of course lets not forget the record amount of MC titles. Just unbelievable what this guy did.

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    Joe Reply:

    Great points as always Ruan!

    The more I look at Roger’s career, the more convinced I become that Nadal will never match him.

    And it would be so great if Roger could win AO one more time, and become the first man to have 5 victories at 3 different majors.

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    Joe Reply:

    … or at RG, to become the first man after Laverer to have two career slams. Or Wimbledon, to be the first to have eight wins there.

    (Sorry, posted that last remark before I was ready to.)

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah Nadal would probably have to surpass Fed’s slam count. Don’t think catching him will be enough to put him ahead. But there is a long way to go anyway. Once Nadal gets up there he will have more weeks at #1, maybe a MC title, probably slams on other surfaces on clay etc. But yeah he will never have the consistency or dominance of Fed.

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  4. Hey everyone,

    One more thing: Stan snapped a 14-match losing streak to the Djokovic, and ended Djokovic’s streak of 14 Grand Slam semifinals at the same time.

    Coincidence? He also stopped Nadal from getting to 14 major victories.

    I’m looking forward to some more pleasant coincidences like these from Stan!

    :-)

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  5. Hey Ru-an. Great article. Just one comment. I know it seems like almost a given that Rafa will surpass Roger. But I don’t think so. He might surpass Sampras, for sure, but I don’t think he will surpass Roger.
    To surpass Roger he has to win 5 !!!! slams. Now WITHOUT Novak and Andy I would say that Rafa would get that in 2 years, even up to 20 (I don’t think Berdych, Tsonga, Ferrer and Delpo will win slams, only Janowics, Dimitrov and Stan).
    But seriously, Novak and Andy are also there. They are in their prime. Andy won 2 and Novak 6. Even in the time of Roger and Rafa. So don’t be so sure he will surpass Roger. He might equal, but surpass?? And Roger is STILL so good that in a period of 3 years he will win another slam. That means Rafa will have to win 6. And I am saying this so many times, seems like no one is willing to listen, but even the greatest Rafa IS GETTING OLDER.
    He is winning left and right, but it is not easy for him to win that easy anymore. He is almost all the time beeing so close to losing. Yes, he still wins on the basis of his mental department and fighting spirit, but even that has to diminish sometimes right?
    Why do you think all the greatest before him just stopped winning everything at a certain age??
    And if you say he is mentally the strongest, than what do you think the loss to Stan did to him?? Why go all the way to Rio where there is no one except Ferrer?? Why not go to Acapulco, the tour he won last year, but now has Andy too??
    Why not go to Dubai where he has not always been, but where there is a lot of money and 500 points to win. Why not go to Dubai?? Almost all the top 10 is there, even Novak??
    Trust me: 1) Even the great Rafa is getting older and it is harder for him to win.
    2) If he is the mental strongest of all time, than the loss to Stan was the last nail.
    If we say Roger is human, than so is Rafa….

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    Katyani Reply:

    3 more things I forgot to mention:
    1) “By beating Nadal in Melbourne Stan was also able to do something that Roger has not been able to do in 7 years”. Harsh, but unfortunately so true. It sometimes makes me so angry that almost everyone from Dimi, to Rosol, to Andujar, to Brands, to Kamke to players we are hearing for the first time can make it difficult for Rafa, but that Roger cannot do that. It really pains me to know that.
    2) The best match of this year will be the first between Rafa and Stan. Stan wants to prove that him beating Rafa was not a fluke and Rafa would like to beat Stan to show that it was a fluke and that if he was not injured he would have won AO.
    3) So strange to know that it was Soderling who stopped Roger’s SF streak and that now it is Stan who stopped Novak’s SF streak…

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  6. Agree on all counts. Dubai has to play out, but Roger certainly looks to be trending higher and higher w/respect to his own level of play since November. Combination of new racket, Edberg, and improved health have all contributed to him playing much better over last 6 events. He should have a title to show for it, but at least he’s looking much better.

    Nadal, OTOH, seems to have peaked, and possibly be trending down. How many times have we seen this? Even though he won the 500 event on clay last week, that was one weak field compared to Dubai, and Andular, of all players, let TWO match points go by before losing to Nadal. RN’s game revolves around confidence, and it does look shaken since the AO. Plus he’s wearing straps/braces on his lower back…not unlike Roger from IW to Shanghai last year.

    My point is that Roger has to improve his position in this debate by winning another slam or two regardless of what Nadal does. And one player who seems lost for the season, who can and has beaten Nadal, is Juan Martin Del Potro. Of course, he can challenge Fed, too, but JMD beat Nadal last Fall and is one player who can actually hit Rafa off the court. I also like JMD, and hate to see him have these wrist problems all over again. He was in tears today before retiring from his 1st round match. What a shame.

    Still, Gulbis is another guy who can threaten the top guys, and he seems to finally be stepping up. Monfils, Ferrer, Berdych, Murray (if healthy as well) can all pull off the occasional upset. And Stan may well prove to be trouble for Rafa again now that he’s beaten Nadal at his own game in a GS Final. And as you pointed out, Novak CAN beat Nadal and has probably made it his mission after last year.

    Guess my point is that for Roger to be considered the GOAT, TWO things must happen, and it’s rather obvious. 1) Roger needs another slam. 3 more would shut the door on the argument imho even if Nadal gets 3-4 more, too. 2) The rest of the field must put up a challenge against Nadal. Stan started it at the AO…now we need the rest of the Top 10 and talented Top 40 guys must follow suit…playing Nadal w/o fear, just as they have always seemed to bring out their “A” game against Roger, especially after he peaked in 2004-2007, 2009, and 2012.

    May Roger himself peak again from 2014-2016. I know that’s overly optimistic for most fans, but I don’t think 2013 was the “real Roger” if you factor in his back issues. If that injury flares up again and turns chronic, well, that’s my biggest fear for him. I’ll be grateful if Roger simply stays healthy, as his tennis will always be the Greatest Of All Time for me regardless of records and statistics.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    That’s true Vinny Nadal’s confidence does look shaken despite the win in Rio. That AO final loss was a major blow. It’s still hard to predict with Nadal though. He may be trending down but I’m sure he can win several more slams. On clay for one he can probably contend for the title at the FO for 10 more years.

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    Vinny Richards Reply:

    Ruan, guess that’s where I’m counting on Novak. So disappointed for JMD, as he is also a guy who legitimately threatens Nadal on the dirt. But if Murray has peaked and cannot ever recover from his own back issues, then who will be left to challenge Rafa? I thought for sure by now some young gun would have really broken through. Stan is what, 28 or 29?

    Guess that’s why I think Roger must make the most out of his 2-3 year window and his recent much improved form. He’s going to have to step it up and win a slam or two if he wants to keep his record intact. I don’t count out Novak, but if he were to really get into Nadal’s head and start beating up on him again like he did in 2011, then he might be the guy who is creeping up on 14 slams in several years. Will be interesting to see it play out, but tennis needs some other players to start challenging at the slams. Stan was great in that regard and now others must follow suit.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well if it’s not some young gun or Del Potro then it’s an older player like Stan. There will always someone to challenge. And of course Djokovic is still right there. As for Murray I don’t think there is any reason to think he cannot recover from his back issues. There is plenty of challengers but it doesn’t mean Roger can leave it all to them. He obviously wants to win another slam, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with staying in front of Nadal. He wants to do it for the thrill of it.

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  7. Roger just closed out a great win against Stepanek. It seems to have been a very exciting match!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I watched and yes it was. Very good match from Roger in the mental department. Post coming.

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    Katyani Reply:

    Phew Ru-an. Not a great match of Roger. Lost his concentration a lot I think, but he also needs this kind of matches right??? Not playing well, getting broken, playing kind of poorly, but still finding a way.
    What do you think will happen between Roger and Rosol?? Should we be worried???

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    Katyani Reply:

    Oh wait, I just read you will make a post. My bad…

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I think it was a fantastic match from both players. Roger just too clutch in the end. Very encouraging performance indeed.

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    Jiten Reply:

    Two matches in a row, Roger serves for the match, leads 40-15 (two match points) and gets broken. He was able to close out in the first one, not against Stepanek. However, according to the commentators, At 40-15 match point, against Stepanek, where he double faulted, the first serve was an ace and Roger didn’t challenge it. He could have closed it out there itself by challenging. Nevertheless, really loved a clutch Roger breaking back from 0-2, 15-40 down in the third set. This match reminds me a lot of the Koyla match in the semifinals in Rotterdam 2012. Hope that the follow-up in 2014 would be the same as in 2012.

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  8. I love the GOAT debate.

    A great post from Ru-an and some very interestiong comments.

    You may want to check the article:

    A Better Way Of Ranking The Most Dominant Tennis Players

    at:

    http://regressing.deadspin.com/which-tennis-player-was-really-the-most-dominant-in-maj-1507503924

    Some really interesting stuff, I think…

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I’m glad to enjoyed the post Rahan. I’m pleased with the responses I got. Not always sure if people stay interested in this debate.

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