Roger Federer: Refining the "GOAT" Debate in Time for the 2011 U.S. Open

JA AllenSenior Writer IJuly 20, 2011

LONDON - JULY 08:  Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the winners trophy alongside runner-up Rafael Nadal of Spain following the Men's Singles final match during day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2007 in London, England. Roger Federer claims his fifth consecutive championship title.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The “Dreadful Dog Days” of tennis are upon us. Tennis pundits, or those who aspire to be relevant, roll out the old standard enticements whose primary goal is to stir a tennis fan's passions.

The surest way to engage the masses is to bounce around the old debates. For example, should Roger Federer be considered the “GOAT,” ("Greatest of all Time," for you few uninitiated) now that he seems thoroughly ensconced in the No. 3 spot in the ATP tennis rankings.

That particular debate is hopelessly circuitous and ridiculously subjective, in case you are wondering, because there is no GOAT in tennis––no player has ever worn that crown.

Still the debate rages on endlessly.

It is rather like saying Johnny Mathis was the greatest singer ever or Cole Porter was the greatest American composer or Don Drysdale was the best pitcher ever to take the mound. 

You might, however, be safe in pronouncing that the music group The Beatles have sold the most albums or that “Thriller” by Michael Jackson was the single largest selling album in the music industry’s history–according to most record-keeping sources. Few would disagree with the numbers.

The main problem with these debates remains that no one agrees on what being the “greatest” means regardless of whether you croon, compose or strike a ball.

So, how can we anoint a king without a prescribed royal resume? 

What criteria should be considered? The answer must lie in the statistics––those records that have been kept, making them marks that the tennis community agrees are worthwhile. 


Being Ranked No. 1:  GOAT Minimum Standard of 200 Weeks, Consecutive Weeks, 156.

There is no more obvious sign that you are the very best than achieving the rank of the No. 1 player in the world. To date there are four men who have spent more than 200 weeks in that position, Pete Sampras (286), Roger Federer (285), Ivan Lendl (270), and Jimmy Connors (268).

There are three men who have had at least 156 consecutive weeks at No. 1, Roger Federer (237), Jimmy Connors (160) and Ivan Lendl (157).

In today's game there is a fascinating potential changing of the guard. The outcome may represent a compelling change in fortune for Rafael Nadal. The Majorcan's window of dominance at the top of the men’s game may or may not be closing.

After three years of chasing Federer, Nadal closed the gap and surpassed the great Swiss in 2008. Losing the top spot to Federer again in 2009, Nadal came back strong in 2010, bumping the Swiss off again after Federer had accumulated 285 weeks at No. 1, only one week behind all-time leader Pete Sampras at 286.

After a recent consecutive 56-week stint at No. 1 (102 weeks in total), Nadal has been surpassed by the new World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who does not seem ready to give up his new found fame and fortune.

It seems that after three years of learning how to defeat Federer on surfaces other than clay, Nadal has not kept pace with the man chasing him down, the Serb Djokovic.

Ironically (and we live for those moments) the only man who has defeated the superlative Djokovic in 2011 and the last man to defeat him in 2010 was former world No. 1 Roger Federer. 

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 08:  Roger Federer of Switzerland speaks to the media after defeating Andy Murray of the United Kingdom during 2008 U.S. Open Men's Championship Match in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Septe
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Winning Grand Slam Tournaments: GOAT Minimum Standards 14, Plus 1 Career Grand Slam

On August 8, 2011, Roger Federer will turn thirty. It appears to those of us who have followed his career that he has been around forever. But in reality, the Swiss has been on the scene a little over a decade.

The first time the world paid attention to Federer was when he met Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2001, upsetting the invincible Sampras in five sets. 

It still took the Swiss until 2003 to win his first major at Wimbledon. Federer assumed the No. 1 ranking early in 2004, never relinquishing it until Nadal swept it away in 2008. 

Roger Federer became the only player in the modern era to win his first seven grand slam finals:  Wimbledon 2003, Australian 2004, Wimbledon 2004, U.S. Open 2004, Wimbledon 2005, U.S. Open 2005 and Australian 2006. 

Rafael Nadal ended Federer’s finals streak at the French Open in 2006 by defeating him 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6.

Federer is one of seven men to have captured a career grand slam by winning a slam title in each of the major venues––Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. Rafael Nadal also joined this group by winning the U.S. Open in 2010.  Others are Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi. 

Federer is the only male player in tennis history to win three Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year three different times in his career. In 2004, 2006, and 2007 Federer won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

When Rafael Nadal won the 2010 U.S. Open, he captured three slam titles in one year––once.  Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Mats Wilander have also captured three slam titles in one year once.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  2011 Wimbledon Champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia speaks at a press conference after winning his final round Gentlemans' match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on Day Thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All E
Pool/Getty Images

Of course, Laver made it one better, winning a calendar year slam (all four grand slam titles) twice in his long illustrious career.

If Djokovic wins the U.S. Open in 2011, he will join this very exclusive group by winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in one calendar year. But, of course, he still must accomplish the win against major opposition. Few, however, will bet against the Serb accomplishing this.


Winning the ATP Year-End Championship: Goat Minimum Three World Titles

At the end of each calendar year, the eight men who have gained the most points on the ATP tour meet at a year-end tournament.

It is a highly prestigious event where the men compete in a round-robin format to crown a winner. It goes without saying that these are the eight best men in the game!

They divide into two groups of four and compete against each other to determine a winner out of each group. The top four men advance to the semifinals with the two semifinal winners advancing to the championship. 

The tournament has been called ATP World Tour Finals, the Tennis Masters Cup, the ATP Tour World Championships or the Masters Grand Prix. The points awarded the champion (1,500) are second only to winning a grand slam tournament (2,000). 

In the modern era with the inception of the ATP, six men have won three or more ATP Year-End Championships.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland (L) and Rafael Nadal of Spain (R) pose on court before their men's final during the ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 28, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Imag
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras have won the title five times. Ilie Nastase won the championship four times while Boris Becker and John McEnroe have won the title three times during their careers.

Other active players who have won the title are Lleyton Hewitt who won it twice and Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, and David Nalbandian who have won it once.

The Goat Debate Narrowed:

In summary, the supposed “GOAT” should have been ranked No. 1 at least 200 weeks, with 156 weeks (3 years) consecutively. He should have won at least 14 grand slam titles and hold a career grand slam.  He should also have won the ATP Year-End Championship at least three times. 

These statistics will survive the test of time making them the minimum requirements to get into the discussion. 

The U.S. Open Preview

Speaking of future GOAT discussions, who do you suppose Djokovic would sooner meet in the finals of the U.S. Open, assuming he gets that far––Nadal, whom he has beaten in five straight finals or Roger Federer who defeated him in the French Open semifinals?

Well, of course, Djokovic defeated Federer during the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open and then later in the Dubai finals.

Probably, the Serb has no preference except that his wins over the former No. 1 ranked player, Nadal, were very special to Djokovic and his team.

A word in parting, lest we forget the man from Argentina––Juan Martin del Potro––who promises to be back in tip-top form for the U.S. Open. He won the title in 2009, refusing to step aside and give Federer six consecutive titles at Flushing Meadows.

It may be very interesting to see how the big serving Canadian Milos Raonic and the powerful del Potro will impact this year’s U.S. Open.

About a month to go until we see them in action. Stay tuned...


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