Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
Former star tennis champions cannot seem to help themselves. Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have all chimed in at one time or another about trying to identify the Greatest Player of All Time (GOAT). And, of course, they have subsequently shifted their positions often enough.
Agassi, who has once called Roger Federer the greatest, switched his vote more publicly by proclaiming Rafael Nadal the greatest, according to ESPN, which cited Agassi's interview with the Singapore newspaper Straits Times: "I'd put Nadal No. 1, Federer No. 2. It's just remarkable to me what he has done, and he has done it all during Federer's prime."
Maybe Agassi is fully aware that his opinions with such a combustible topic will go viral. Was it too much to resist that his words would be examined anywhere from the Far East to Basel, and from Mallorca to Las Vegas? But Agassi is ignoring one simple but powerful truth:
There is no such thing as one GOAT player.
This cannot be measured across generations, through numbers of championships or any other "objective" or subjective means. Agassi's GOAT comments are irrelevant and inaccurate. Has Nadal accomplished "all during Federer's prime"? Many tennis observers just might argue that Federer's prime ended sometime in 2010, if not sooner.
The more curious comments are Agassi's rationale for choosing Nadal, and it regards what the majority of tennis media members have long proclaimed: there are stronger and weaker eras in tennis. Again, his comments via ESPN:
Nadal had to deal with Federer, [Novak] Djokovic, [Andy] Murray in the golden age of tennis. He has done what he has done, and he's not done yet."
OK, there are certainly stronger and weaker periods in tennis' Open Era, and Agassi's comment is no revelation. But how do we really weigh this when we determine numbers and titles? The "Nadal Prime era" might be stronger than the "Federer Prime era," but it does little to determine who the better player is. It's apples and oranges.
And that's another problem. Numbers, dominance, head-to-head play and the eye test can frame the evidence any way that we like. Sure it's a lot of fun, and we will undoubtedly continue (and write about) these conversations month by month as the top stars continue their careers.
Agassi is welcome to his opinion, but would it have been too much for him to add at least one original idea to this bottomless debate? Instead, he recycled the same old arguments, contributing nothing but his name. We will recycle our Burnt Bagel award just for him.
Maybe Agassi just needed a little press. He got it.