Is Federer Really the GOAT?

Above there are two articles about Roger’s GOAT status. The one is an in depth look at the history of the game, while the other is one where Pete Sampras gets asked about Roger’s head-to-head record against Rafa. Concerning the history of the game, it is not something I am overly interested in. There are some interesting facts in that article and it is of course important to know the history of the game in order to determine a GOAT. But I can’t say that I agree with everything in that article. The argument about the transport problems players had in the past is a little pointless to me, because if the transport was better then there would have been better players at the tournaments as well. So you can’t say just because the transport was bad that a player could have won more majors.

Then there is an argument about the fact that players didn’t play in the majors when they turned pro and that the Australian Open wasn’t really counted as a major back then. Also the fact that guys like Laver, Connors and Borg won many more tournaments then Roger has won so far. What strikes me the most about all these arguments is simply that the game wasn’t nearly as competitive back then then it is now. The game is more competitive now then it has ever been, and the fact that Laver could win something like 199 tournaments is almost laughable. Connors won 109 tournaments, but Roger still has a better tournament winning percentage then Connors. The fact that guys like Laver and Connors could also play competitively until the age that they did, just points once again to the fact that the game was so much less competitive in those days.

Can you imagine players competing at professional level until they are forty nowadays?! These days players retire in their late twenties or early thirties. That gave guys like Laver and Rosewall about twice the amount of time to win tournaments then the players have these days. The way the game is played these days and the fact that there is so much more depth to the tour these days, makes it almost a different sport from the days of Laver, Rosewall, and even Borg and Connors. These days any player can pretty much be beaten by any player inside the top 200 on any given day. The competition is just brutal. I can easily imagine someone like Laver or Rosewall showing up in those days and winning just about every major they played.

People can say what they want but for me it only points to the fact that it was much easier to do in those days. I think in those days if  a talented player like Laver came along and decided to dedicate his life to dominating tennis, it was pretty much a given that it would happen. Nowadays it’s virtually impossible, unless you are Roger Federer of course. The way Roger has dominated the game makes it look like we are back in the amateur era again. I think winning the calender year grand slam like Don Budge and Rod Laver did is pretty much impossible these days. Look at Rafa for instance, a lot of people including Andre Agassi, thought he could win all four majors this year. Yet he couldn’t even win the major which was pretty much a lock for him, due to the toll that the modern game took on his body.

It has just become exceptionally difficult. Roger was only a match away from winning the calender year grand slam on two occasions, and once he came within two matches. Yet on those three occasions he had to deal with the clay court GOAT! There is no player who can be the GOAT on all surfaces, it’s just impossible with the specialists on the different surfaces these days. So when someone like Roger loses on three different occasions to the clay court GOAT when he could have won the calendar year grand slam, you pretty much have to assume that it’s impossible. Who knows, maybe Roger can do it next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens, but you have to say thus far Roger has given it his best shot.

This brings us to another important point in the argument for Roger’s GOAT status, which is his head-to-head record with Rafa. Maybe the reason Roger did not win the calender slam yet, is because he didn’t find a way to beat Rafa. It’s like Pete says, it’s a hard one to answer. But now we arrive at the most important point in the GOAT discussion, which is that Roger’s career is not finished yet. I think it’s been unfair that people have started labelling Federer as the GOAT before his career is finished. Of course it is flattering, but it’s not fair. The argument can only truly start when his career is over. Personally I do feel that Rafa’s h2h record against Roger has been over hyped, but I do think Roger has something left to prove.

I think before the match in Madrid Roger has been stubborn when playing against Rafa. I’ve said that for a very long time. I don’t think he has played like the GOAT against Rafa. You see I’m not a blind Federer worshipper. But you can’t say just because of the fact that Roger didn’t play like the GOAT against Rafa in the past, that he is not the GOAT. That would be way too harsh. Roger’s career is not over and judging by what he did to Rafa at Madrid, I predict that Roger will fix his rivalry with Rafa in the future. But lets say that Rafa retires soon, or that he does not make grand slam finals anymore. What then? Well then I would have to say that Roger has turned it around against Rafa in Madrid, and showed that he has figured Rafa out.

But hopefully that won’t happen. Hopefully Rafa can show up in some more grand slam finals, and not just Roland Garros finals! You see what people don’t realize is that of the 6-2 record that Rafa has over Roger in grand slams, half of the meetings were on clay, and the victories from Rafa on grass court and hard court came when Roger was sick and had back problems. Roger is clearly a different player now then he was in 2008 and beginning 2009. So to make it fair Rafa should actually meet Roger four times at the US Open. I have no doubt that Roger would school Rafa at the US Open, but the problem is that Rafa has not been good enough to make it far enough to meet Roger. Why doesn’t people ever say anything about that?

Instead people choose to focus on the four meetings at the French Open, which is of course Roger’s least favorite surface. Yes, GOATS are allowed to have least favorite surfaces! So what is my conclusion? I think both articles that I posted make relevant points. I have called Roger the GOAT before, but I was using the term loosely. I’m not gonna tell you that Roger is the GOAT without a shadow of a doubt, even though that is what you might want to hear. In fact I’m not gonna make any judgement. How can I when Roger’s career is not finished? It wouldn’t make sense. In order to be the GOAT I think there are two important things he has to do. Both have to do with these two articles. The first thing I want him to do is to go on and win many more majors.

It’s hard to put a number on it but it would be great of he can pass 20. This should shut up the historians who claim that guys like Laver and Rosewall would have passed 20 slams was it not for the amateur era. The second thing is that I want him to fix his h2h record with Rafa and Murray, so that people can’t say he didn’t even dominate his own era. If it turns out that Rafa retires or he doesn’t make any more slam finals and semi-finals, then I will give the benefit of the doubt to Roger. He can only beat who is in front of him, and he has shown in Madrid that he is turning things around against Rafa. As you can see, Roger still have many things to achieve in his career if he wants to be the true GOAT.

There are also more records for him to break, like being number one for the most weeks, ending the year at number one the most years, wining the most Master’s Series titles, winning the most Wimbledon titles, winning the most Us Open titles, etc. Those are just some I can think of that would help his case for being the GOAT. I can’t say that there will ever be a real GOAT that everyone will agree upon, but the two things I mentioned above, as well as some of the records I’ve mentioned, would certainly make him the GOAT in my mind. Roger is turning 28 this year, and he now has the most important records behind him. He is now in a great position to really work at his GOAT status. He has plenty of time left to do it and I for one can’t wait to see whether he can do it.

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  1. It seems that this debate just goes on and on. I do admit the critics will through the h2h with Rafa, in everyone’s face, but it will be interesting to see what happens. I also notice how Nadal gets treated with kid gloves. The media and really has built his image is of a kid. I understand that he is 23, but I’ve never seen any criticism of Rafa while Roger gets all the criticism. I think it’s a Spainard thing. Now I’ve seen that people are predicting Rafa will win US Open since he has had so much rest. We will have to see.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes the debate just goes on, but i think there could already be made a good case for Roger being the GOAT even though his career isnt finished yet. Rafa wont win the US Open, im pretty sure of that.


  2. You see in today´s British Open Campionship almost 60 years old Watson is in the top, with Tiger out of the tournement.Tiger is a legend…
    The USO.organization was in panic(Bertolaccini ESPN. commentator)There are only one reason:sports=money,and all the silly press=money.
    ESPN.Tennis 2009,cruel and real.


  3. I agree with most of your comments. However, where you say that Roger has not played like the GOAT against Rafa is also because – to a certain extent – Rafa has not allowed him to. Like you said, Roger needs to calm down and find his GOAT skills against Rafa. Madrid was a good example.

    I feel that Roger was snowballing downhill with all these losses because of his illness and back injury. Personally, I don’t believe they knew what was wrong with him when he got mono and when his body didn’t behave as it normally would, it lead to losses, loss of confidence – the whole vicious cycle.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, i agree. I didnt know what was goin on, if you read baack. It was much worse then it seemed.


  4. Just Dugg your article. Very nice depth.

    I think Fed’s powers have diminished and Nadal with his A game would beat Fed.

    Having said that Fed in hayday was unplayable. Even as a clay court player he was great, it’s just nadal was exceptional on clay


    Ru-an Reply:



  5. What do you mean by saying Laver had twice a career????
    The guy had his last grand slam title (and final) at the age of 31!!!!!!!
    In contrast, Agassi reached the US Open final at the age of 35 in the Federer Era!!


    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes and he played till he was 39. Lol!


  6. Dear Ruan
    I have come to the conclusion that Roger’s brilliance is the problem. He plays tennis with such ease and elegance that no one has ever seen before that people just can not believe he is real. I was reading an article just now that spoke in the same breath about Roger’s twins and Andy Murray passing his driving test! Does that make sense? It’s like comparing chalk and cheese.
    Who is the GOAT? I ask who has won the most GSs, who has been Number 1 for the longest stretch, who has reached 21 straight GS SFs, who has been in the most GS finals? Answer to all Roger Federer. If Roger never again holds a racket in his hands he will still go down as the GOAT.
    The argument about his H2H against Nadal is another distraction. How many times has Nadal reached the final to play Roger? Answer 8 as against Roger reaching 15 of the last 16 finals. Where was Nadal? He was beaten by someone else. But where was Roger in RG? In the final every time. This new excuse of Nadal’s injury that stopped him from winning RG 2009 and competing at Wimbledon will not wash. Roger had mono and back injury last year and nobody excused him and yet he competed every time. And he had figured Nadal out by 2007. Remember the Master’s Cup 2007, but then came last year and the mono and back injury.
    Who amongst Laver, Rosewall, Connors, Borg and even Sampras did what Roger is doing? Not one. And Roger is not finished yet. I expect him to win at least 23 GSs. Perhaps then the debate will be done.


    Ru-an Reply:

    I like your comments. Me and you think very similarly. Roger is pure peRFection, there is a quality about him that is just unheard of.


  7. Pingback: Federer Wants to Play in Davis Cup Playoff | Ruans Federer Blog

  8. You know, we shouldn’t be sided, nor do we should in any case try to prove ourselves to be right more than we try to expose our point; after all, the idea of argumentation and discussion is to find the right answer and not to prove ourselves to be right for the pleasure of our pride.

    This said, I have moticed man yhere tend to torsion facts and, although they are in reality presenting a judgement, they disguise it as facts.

    We cannot tell with an optimal accuracy upon victories and opponents through different eras what made these victories possible. Why? For one reason: General domination (winning most of tiem regularly over most players of your game, for example) is the result of a skill difference. Now, what is the real source of this skill difference?

    Is it that the champion was so great or that his opponent were so weak?
    Is that the champion had harder opponents or that he wasn’t good enough to dominate like others?

    My favorite illogical argument is one supporting Pete Sampras as beign the GOAT. It always goes somehow like this:
    “Sampras’ opponents were harder to beat.”

    This argument is usually presented as if it was a FACT and is supported by an exaplantion very short like:
    “His opponents won more titles which makes them greater.”

    These are judgements and not only FACTS. The only real valuable line (as facts) in that is: his opponents won more titles.

    The way you should express it this reality is:
    “The skill distribution was closer than in Federer’s era.” This is a fact and can be supported by how many different person won. Saying: Pete’s opponents were harder to beat” is the conclusion, but further than this, to be allowed to say it, you need to show how and why they are greater.

    I will bust right here one of these false argument:
    Rivalry and H2H records does make the leader greater. You realize this must be true, no matter when, no matter the players, era or time.

    Because some people go as far as saying Nadal is better than Federer. Let’s list some facts:

    Nadal leads Federer 13-7
    Federer leads Blake 8-1?(He was leading Blake 8-0 after winning to him at AO 2008)
    Blake leads Nadal 3-2

    If we follow the logic, it means Nadal is better than Federer because Federer is better than Blake who is greater than Nadal…
    Somehow, Federer is both lesser and greater than Nadal… Doesn’t work.

    What does this showed? Well unless one can show me how this is true:

    The leader of a H2H isn’t greater than his opponent, no matter which, no matter how, no matter when. This H2H record doesn’t make you greater than any opposite player. And, to some extend, could we say it doesn’t matter ALONE or at least not much to the point it doesn’t make ALONE a difference in your position as a great player.

    So H2H are useless ALONE because they aren’t a sufficient and necessary condition to be great. So, it has a very limited impact.

    Does victories matter then? As any form of result, because they aren’t only influenced by skills, they aren’t sufficient alone to claim which player is the greatest. Are they any important then? Well, it’s through consistancy, skills, dominance and mental qualities we will determine which is greater than which.

    It happens the only goal of this game is to perform no matter how hard it is and it also happen we can only determine consistancy, dominance and mental qualities through titles. I’d rather say it’s not much the number difference, but how much they worth.

    Here, results, trophies and titles are not ultimate answers, not useless; each thing as a weight and we must judge the relative prize of each thing before seeing which was the best.

    Simply put, the GOAT must have won, dominated and been consistant, no matter the surface or conditions. Ideally, it’s total perfection we must look for. But, since it’s not humanly achievable, we will see which player has the least flaws; the least things we can hold against them.

    And, tell me from all these great men, which has least to be repproach of than Roger Federer? We can talk abotu Sampras’ baseline game, his incapacity of adaptation on clay and ultimatly his very single sided game. A great Champion, but only an other departement master; greatest in his domain at the time he played.

    With the Beckers, Connors, McEnroes, Landls of this world, the same principel can be applied, but to different extend. Coem were bad on clay, others on hard and some were good, but unconsistant. Each player has flaws we can talk about.

    But, when it comes to Roger, the disclaimers have such a hard time they need to twist up things and disbalance the reality. You might think I exaggerate here, but tell me how a bit weaker oppoentns and a leading rival outmatches all his deeds and his play level? Because the only two remainign argumentsare:

    1-Sampras had it thougher
    2-Nadal leads him

    But, even though the value, as I showed, are very questionnable, they are arguments. But the impact of them is really reduced.

    1-Because Roger has been incredibly more dominant than any before, how weak must have been his opponents to outmatch his records? How much weaker? Considerably weaker than anythign seen before. IS it the case? We can at best support they are weaker, but up to say they are weaker than anything ever showed, it’s very very exagerated.

    2-Roger dominated the whole sport and has been more consistant than anyone before including Nadal. Even if you can show me to be wrong up there, even if it worth more than I thought it would, hwo much has it to worth to outmatch his deeds? These 20 games must worth more than all the other games Federer had played. So, over 1000plus games, we hold 20 games over them sayign they worth more. It means each lost would worth 50 plus time more than any other lost…

    3- Both combined… Split the numbers high in half. It’s like saying the 2000’s top ten worth the 90’s 20th to 30th position or perhaps even lesser. It’s still evaluting Nadal-Federer game has being worth 25 plus time more than any other.

    See? I showed them to be illogical, useless and even if you show me to be wrong and them to be right, it’s still a total exageration to present these two over Roger’s career.

    Why is Roger the Greatest of All time? Because he is the player presenting the least flaws, the least things to critic. He plays with such elegance, gracefulness the game seems easy. No one aside him is so complete he can play baseline bashers like Gonzalez, face great server like Roddick and still is a rare able to put off the point off the first volley. In this list, he plays both like Sampras and Agassi at the same time.

    He is the only player to be able to dominate on hard, grass and clay. Like you said, Roger is always there in Garros final, but he still wait to see Nadal at Flushing Meadows.

    Simply put, he’s the ONLY GOAT contender who can be taken as the best player to play each shot, cover the court, run fast… There’s nothing SAFE about Federer, nothing you can exploit. The only way to win even if he is sick, is to play winners or pray God it’s the game out of hundreds of set he happens to play his winners 4 inch further so he miss the line.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Good comment, especially regarding Sampras and Rafa. Sampras and Rafa is two very different players, they are at the opposite side of the spectrum you can say. The one is extremely attacking , while the other is extremely defensive. Both are experts in their style of play. But they are hardly experts when it comes to the opposite of their given style. Ths is why Sampras struggled at the French and Rafa at the US. Thay are both great champions, but far from peRFect. In a sense they are quite one dimensional. Roger is the only player that that can do all styles equally well, he has achieved perfection as it were.

    There is no flaw in the armor. He can play equally well on clay as he did on the fast hard courts of the US Open, or the fast grass of Wimbledon of old. He can serve and volley ad well as stay back. He can adjust his strokes to slow clay as well as he can to fast indoor. There is simply nothing he cannot do. I think you did very well to scientifically dispell the importance of the h2h with Rafa and the ‘strong’ era of Sampras. Ill just add that the Sampras era seems stronger exactly because of that fact that Sampras could not dominate the way Roger did.

    He couldnt dominate like Roger did on clay and he didnt have the vast array of arsenal Roger have at his disposal to beat any player on a given day. As for the h2h i have written about that extensively as well. It is a very misunderstood h2h, as it is simply a case of Roger being good enough to meet Rafa several times on clay, while Rafa is not good enough to return the favor. The player who wins the most amount of matches on all surfaces is clearly better then the player who dominates on a single surface.

    In this case we can also look at Sampras and say he would have had much worse h2h records with the likes of Muster and Bruguera had he performed better on clay. As Nadal wasnt good enough to meet Roger regularly outside of clay, which is reflectd in the fact that 11 of their 20 meeting were on clay, the same can be said for Sampras not being good enough to regulary make it far enough in clay court tournaments.

    Roger is simply perfect, and my gut feeling is that he is the GOAT, even though its hard to prove it. In my mind he is the chosen one.


    sameguyhasabove Reply:

    You know, now that he has 16 titles and seeing the way that he kicked the competition all aroudn the courts at Melbourne – he even found a way to turn matches from head to toe and litterally slaughtered Davidenko and Andreev in the very same game they had seem to take him out.

    It seems as if he doesn’t want an other day where a “Del Potro” will take him aslept and wake uo when it’S too late; now, as soon as his opponent’s level is lowered, he steps on the gas and leave it on the floor.

    I argued with someone once that Roger had probably the most cold-minded spirit in modern tennis and we just saw him rushing the net, aiming for the lines – even on second serves and defensive shots sometimes.

    If he keeps going, it will simply be ridiculous to even think about setting aside of him any player; he has exhibited probably his most lethal game since 3 or 4 years at Melbourne… even him speaks of it being one of his best tournament in career.

    Murray is a former number 2; Tsonga, former 7; both are still in the top ten and, it’s not because they were not playign well – there strokes were really good, really well-placed – but Roger Federer was simply too good. 28,5 y.o. and he’s still TOO good.

    In a 3/5sets game, Federer has the edge over anyone at any time.


  9. Several years after this post, Federer won 2 GS a the age of 35. So that’s it for the competitive point it’s written in this article.


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