Rafael Nadal took home a historic 13th French Open title this month. With his win, he brought his total number of Grand Slam wins to 20, tying Roger Federer’s record. This victory reopened the GOAT debate for many fans.
Following Nadal’s win in Paris, Federer posted an Instagram caption that said, “I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us.” Neither player is planning to step away from the court anytime soon. Besides Nadal and Federer, Novak Djokovic is vying for a seat at the table. Djokovic has won five of the last nine majors, and as the youngest of the three men, he could be on tour long after Federer and Nadal bid adieu.
The tennis season is a whirlwind. With four different surfaces (that all play at varying speeds), four grand slams, a multitude of smaller tournaments played on almost every continent and almost no offseason, a lot is expected of every professional player. The fact that these three players have kept up their outstanding levels of play for over 15 years is a testament to their dedication.
There are many factors used to debate who the Greatest Of All Time in tennis is: head-to-head, number of majors, weeks at number one, most matches won, and performance at masters levels events. However, picking one person isn’t so simple.
Nadal leads his head-to-head with Federer with a score of 24-16. Federer is still clinging onto his record for most-weeks-at-number-one. Djokovic has beaten Nadal 29 out of their 56 meetings, barely edging out the lead. Federer has the most wins at majors, and Federer and Nadal have the most majors. You could keep going around in circles, pointing out why one player is the best. But the truth is that there are too many variables to name one player as GOAT, especially with the three leading contenders all still active on tour.
Some journalists and fans will say having the GOAT discussion is reductive: why not appreciate the fact that some of the best to play the sport are playing at the same time? To some extent, they are right. There is an argument to be made that Federer is the GOAT of grass, Nadal is the GOAT of clay and Djokovic is the GOAT of hard. Let them all have a piece of the pie.
But the real question is: why censor discussion? GOAT discussions help introduce people to tennis. It helps foster conversation. In a sport where being a fan can seem isolating, especially in America (where tennis isn’t on most people’s radar), having something that promotes conversation is a positive. While some fans like to stifle this debate, letting people talk about a sport they love and the players they love should be supported. Sports, at its core, is about community.
As cliche as it sounds, we should appreciate the history that is being made right in front of us. And for some, appreciating means debating. It’s all in the game.