Novak Djokovic's victory in the Australian Open 2019 has thrown the debate wide open about who is the greatest in tennis. Is it the Serb, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer? (Image credit: File photos)
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. These three names have enriched the sport of tennis to legendary proportions. These three combined hold a total of 52 Grand Slam titles, with Federer leading the way with 20 titles, followed by Nadal with 17 and Djokovic with 15. All three hold other major records. Nadal is the only tennis player in history to win one Grand Slam singles title 11 times which is the French Open. Federer holds the record for most Wimbledon titles with eight while Djokovic holds the record for most Australian Open titles with seven, following his win over Nadal in 2019. The playing style of all three athletes is also a sight for tennis fans.
Federer is considered an artist, the man having the most complete game among all tennis players. Nadal is aggression, behind the baseline and a player defined by solid court coverage while Djokovic is a mixture of both Federer and Nadal. From 2003 till 2019, the triumvirate of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal has dominated the scene so brilliantly that the debate arises – who is the greatest tennis player among all three?
Trying to single out who is the best risks the wrath of getting lynched by fan clubs of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Every number, every event needs to have a firm foreground and background. When discussing about who is the greatest, it is important to reiterate that all three players are legends in their own right and that the debate is only centered on the fan mood based on certain factors.
Federer magic in tennis
The Swiss maestro has won 20 Grand Slams and has won titles on all surfaces. His mastery has never been in doubt, especially in the grass courts of Wimbledon where he is supreme. At age 37, Federer continues to push the bar and dishes out a lesson to every tennis player.
Despite winning the career slam ahead of Nadal and Djokovic, there are plenty of fans who have doubted Federer’s ability on clay. The Swiss has never defeated Nadal in the French Open and his win in 2009 came against Robin Soderling, his opponent in the final who had managed to beat Nadal in the fourth round. What also goes slightly against Federer is that he has never won the gold medal in singles in the Olympics. However, Federer set the original benchmark of dominance and it required something exceptional to break it.
Nadal’s legend grows
Consider this aspect. Nadal has won one Australian Open, four out of 11 French Open titles and out of his two Wimbledon titles in 2008. Whom did he beat to win this? Federer.
The fact that Nadal won six out of his 17 Grand Slam titles by defeating Federer when he was at his peak is staggering. The Spaniard left-hander is the only player to win the Golden slam, winning both the singles and doubles gold in 2008 Beijing and 2016 Rio Olympics. Nadal leads 23–15 in overall encounters. Of these matches, 24 have been in finals with Nadal leading 14–10. Of their 12 meetings in majors, Nadal has won nine of them. Nadal leads 5–0 at the French Open and 3–1 at the Australian Open, while Federer leads 2–1 at Wimbledon. Nadal’s overall record against Federer and the fact that he defeated the Swiss maestro at his peak makes his aura brighter.
Djokovic is the third person in the triumvirate to achieve the career slam. What can one make of Djokovic? He is the only player to have a positive head-to-head record against Federer and Nadal. Djokovic has a 28-25 record against Nadal which is 10-10 in Grand Slams. Against Federer, he has a 25-22 record including 9-6 in Grand Slams.
Djokovic is one of the elite few who have defeated Nadal in the French Open, something which Federer has been unable to do. In 2015, Djokovic did the unthinkable and registered a win against the Spaniard, that too in straight sets. His superior head-to-head record against both opponents probably puts him a notch higher. His success against Nadal and Federer in all surfaces makes him exceptional.
The only way the debate of their greatness can be sealed is if all three win the four Grand Slams more than once. Nadal blew his chance at the Australian Open and will probably have to wait another year for him to get the chance. Federer and Djokovic will be gunning to win the French Open for the second time. If any of these players become the first player from the Open Era to win all four Grand Slams twice, then the debate will be tilted in their favour respectively.