Men's Tennis : A Few Nit-Picks On The GOAT Debate

antiMatterSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26:  Rafael Nadal of Spain talks to the media at a press conference after retiring from his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day nine of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

A tinge of satire? Probably.

The Special Theory of Relativity ranks among those few that sent all physicists scampering for cover. To say that time doesn't "flow" equally for every person in this world (universe, to be precise) with or without a watch, would cause anyone to shake his head in frustration at the guy who said it. But gladly we had enough smart people at that time, to understand and accept the stuff.

While it says that people moving relative to each other would observe different things about the universe, it also says that everyone is right, though the observations do not match.

Why they do not match, is that you are actually "comparing apples with oranges" (that is my favourite phrase here in BR tennis. I like apples more, what about you?). You need to do some non-intuitive(on the face of it) math on one person's observations so that it becomes comparable to the other person's.

Well, nature does it anyway.

The everyday battles that takes place between fans is hardly physics. And both parties are ensconced in their own reference frames, probably all of which are non-inertial. These arguments however have the looks of arguments between physicists.

Statistics are presented as experimental evidence first.

"Federer has won the most number of Grand Slam titles ever. From the fact that Grand Slams are the most coveted prizes and most difficult to be won in any era, it follows that Federer is the G.O.A.T."

Then exceptions are pointed out.

"But while it is representative of how much the player is better than his field, it doesn't provide a point of comparison with players from other eras. Look at the Sampras Era. He beat players who had won more Slams. So they were tougher to beat. Grand Slams during Pete's era were tougher than Slams during Federer's Era."

Somewhere down the corridor, you could hear that the exception only proves the rule. (To put the record straight, exceptions always disprove the rule).

Then more things are picked up like, "If he is the Greatest Of All Time, he must have a winning record against his main rival. This Nadal guy owns him."

Then more people volunteer with more statistics to analyze this new anomaly.

Yes, looking at it again, it indeed is like a search for something.

People keep coming up with numbers and people always try to find a meaning to these numbers. At each step, people always try to encompass more and more statistics into their theories trying to prove or disprove that Federer is the GOAT, maybe hoping that their theory would some day include all the sensible statistics possible.

But of course, it is nothing scientific.

In science, the "meaning" of a number arises from mathematical relations. It is abstract, and whatever mental picture of the meaning you have in mind, all such meanings always predict the same result, since these are forced to mathematically agree with each other by the inherent objectivity in science.

In our debates, the meaning of a number arises from the fans, each offering a different version. We do not have any experiments as well to see which is the correct meaning, because except the case where it is Federer V Hewitt/Roddick the outcome of the experiment is different (and it doesn't help that Hewitt and Roddick are not involved in the GOAT debates).

Add to it the "hope" that people carry that the statistics will in the future reverse, and you have a recipe for no consensus.

That is as hypocritical a usage of causality as any, since at other times one could see not only predictions being made, but also being used for future purposes regarding the same debate.

Well, what do you do in these cases? How do you resolve the debate?

There is no physical evidence that could be given like, for example, how you prove that 1 + 1 indeed is 2.

Of course, one day the earth maybe rid all people who believe otherwise and eveyone may agree to the truth of a single argument. And that day  at least to a good number of people, the subject encompassing the question might be elevated to the stature of the metaphysical.