Men's Tennis: Roger Federer, Rod Laver and How the GOAT Debate Changes over Time

Martin Baldridge@MARTIN BALDRIDGECorrespondent IIJuly 15, 2012

High emotion for Roger Federer receiving the Australian Open trophy from Rod "Rocket" Laver
High emotion for Roger Federer receiving the Australian Open trophy from Rod "Rocket" LaverAdam Pretty/Getty Images

"Roger Federer certainly is my claim to be the best of all time - if there is such a thing. With Rafael Nadal not far behind," said Rod Laver, on July 5th in London.

High praise indeed from one GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) to another.

But to be honest what was "Rocket" supposed to say?

"Oh yeah, Roger's a great player, but I was better!"

GOATs tend to be very supportive of one another's achievements, and rightly so, as all were the best of their time—bar one, of course.

I'm British and fast approaching 50 years of age, but to be honest I'd never come across the term GOAT, until I joined certain American-based tennis forums.

Of course it didn't take me long to decipher the GOAT code, and upon deeper research I'm amazed at the amount of attention it receives.

So here's my take on the subject.

Roger Federer is not the GOAT.

How can he be when he has a losing 10-18 head-to-head record against his greatest rival in his own era; Rafael Nadal.

Of course many believe Laver himself to be the GOAT.

Although he only won 11 Grand Slams compared to Federer's 17, he twice won calendar-year Grand Slams.

However, how many of the potential 20 Grand Slam events that he missed between 1963-67 would Laver have won, had he not been barred for playing professionally?

Doubters of Laver claim that there wasn't same level of competition around during the 1960s as there is today.

This is something of an insult to Laver's contemporaries.

The only other man to win a calendar-year Grand Slam was American Don Budge in 1938.

The first leg of Budge's Grand Slam was won in Australia.

Guess how many men entered the men's draw?

33—of which 29 were Australian.

Therefore, it's hard to compare that Grand Slam year to Laver's of 1962 and '69.

Is it simply the number of calendar year Grand Slams, which define the GOAT?

If that were the case—Laver would be it.

Or perhaps the total number of Grand Slam titles?

If that were true then Federer would be it.

And no I'm not a sexist.

Steffi Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles and a calendar-year Grand Slam in 1988, so what does that make her?

And Margaret Court won 24 Grand Slam singles titles in a career, which like Laver, spanned both the amateur and professional eras.

"You can't compare Laver to Federer, because Laver won three of the four Grand Slams on grass," some would say.

Others would argue back, "Yes, but the grass at Wimbledon now plays similarly to hard court, so three of the four Slams are still played on the same surface!"

The fact is, there actually is no such thing as the GOAT.

Blame Muhammad Ali for starting the whole GOAT debate.

"I am the Greatest!" proclaimed...the greatest.

Personally, I'm happy to simply admire and respect all of these greatest champions of "their" own times.