Oh no, I can hear people saying, oh no, not again. The GOAT discussion is endless, it is boring, it is interesting...
After Federer won Wimbledon 2009 and Nadal seemed to have faded prematurely, there was little debate about the GOAT. The Swiss Master was virtually installed on the throne. Purists protested claiming there couldn't be a GOAT. You couldn't compare players of different generations. What about the pre-Open era? What about the fact that many great players including Borg skipped Australian Open at times? Yada, yada ,yada. Some will say, Ok if there has to be a GOAT, it is Laver because he accomplished the Calendar Slam twice or Pancho Gonzales because..... or Sampras because.... or Agassi ....or Borg ...........( depending on which statistic is considered most significant) .
Then Nadal came back almost like a phoenix rising from the ashes and won three Slams in a row. Completed the career slam at the age of 24 (youngest in the Open era). Only man to win 3 consecutive GS titles on three different surfaces. And the GOAT debate got re-ignited. And h2h, another interesting statistic, again took centerstage. Many commentators felt that Federer could not be considered the greatest if he could not be greater than another player from his own era. Federer would have to reverse the h2h. Sampras added his bit to this debate.
Nadal himself feels he is not the GOAT. Federer, he says, is the greatest in history. " You see the titles of him and you see the titles of me? "
The trouble with trying to decide the GOAT debate is that all measures are relative. If you were a 100m sprinter, apart from having a gold medal for having left your competition behind, you would also have a race time, a handy tool for measuring yourself against past and future greats. But tennis has no such absolute measure.
Clearly , the number of GS titles is an important indicator of greatness. But we need to consider other factors like number of weeks at the top, other titles won, achievement of rare feats like the calendar slam etc.
How do we compare a player with 8 GS titles including a calendar slam against a player with say 10 GS titles?
Intuitively we attach weights to each of these parameters.
What we need is a composite measure to view greatness from several angles similar to how we get an idea of what we look like by placing mirrors strategically and getting feedback from others.
So how about devising a model taking several parameters into account?
Here's a suggested heuristic model for the Open era (I wouldn't try to compare players from the pre-Open era with those from the Open era. There cannot be a fair comparison.The general field today or the ATP tournament is far more competitive consisting as it does of hundreds of athletes hungry for glory or money.Also,the Grand Slams these days are played on three different surfaces unlike the pre-Open era when they were played only on clay and grass.)
Roger and Rafa's scores are calculated by way of illustration.
An aspirant to the title of GOAT can be entered into the race if he has at least 6 GS titles.
1) Number of titles:
Each GS title: 10 points; Olympics Singles Gold,Silver, Bronze: 10,5,2 points respectively; Year-ending Masters title: 8 points; ATP 1000 Masters title: 4 points; ATP 500 titles: 2 point, and ATP 250: 1 point.
Score: Roger: 294 Rafa: 195
2) Number of weeks at the top: For every 52 weeks at the top: 5 points
Score: Roger: 27.4; Rafa: 6.3
3) Rare feats: a) Calendar Grand Slam: Bonus 250; b) Non-Calendar Grand Slam: Bonus 200
c) If Calendar or non-Cal Slam not achieved: i) Career slam: Bonus 75
ii) 3-in-a row in one calendar year: Bonus 50
If 3-in-a-row in one calendar year not achieved:
iii) European double: Bonus 25; iv) 3 non-consecutive slams in a Calendar year: Bonus 25
Score: Roger: 75+75+25 = 175; Rafa: 75+25+50=150
e) h2h record:
If there are two dominant players in one era with age difference not more than 7.5 ( each having at least 6 GS titles), bonus points to be added for h2h wins:
For GS: 10; Masters Cup: 8; Masters: 4; ATP500:2; ATP250:1
GS edge for Rafa: 6-2; Masters Cup edge for Roger:2-0;Masters edge for Rafa : 7-3; Other title edge for Rafa:1-0
Score: Roger: 48; Rafa: 90
***Grand total score: Roger: 544.4; Rafa: 441.3.
Clearly as per this model, Rafa has a long way to go unless he can achieve a rare feat like the non-Calendar year slam for which he currently has a very good chance.
Next year i.e. 2011 is likely to be the most important year in Rafa's career. A watershed year, you might say.
Note 1: If Rafa accomplishes the non-Cal slam, he will gain additional 75 points, not 200 ( as 3-in-a-row accomplished in 2010 will become part of non-Cal slam in Jan 2011 and also points for career slam will be removed to avoid double counting)
I welcome comments from fans, whether in agreement or in dissent, for adding value to a heuristic model for determining the GOAT.