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Analyzing the Big Three in Tennis: Grand Slams, ATP Finals and the ‘GOAT’ Debate
Tuesday, 11/19/2019
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In many sports, players as talented as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic appear once in decades. To live at a time when all three of them are at their careers, therefore, is nothing short of a miracle.

Swiss-born Federer is the oldest of the trio famously known as “the big three.” He’s 38-year-old and leads his rivals with the highest number of grand slams won: 20. His closest opponent, 33-year-old Spain national Nadal now has 19 grand thanks to his recent victory at the US Opens. Serbia’s 32-year-old Djokovic completes the trio with 16 grand slams.
For some, Federer is the undisputed ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of all Time) in tennis thanks to his marvelous record in ATP Tour Finals. Yet, there are people like Spain’s tennis professional Feliciano Lopez who believes no one will surpass Nadal’s legacy.
Still, some tennis fans believe Djokovic has the best chance of retiring as the greatest tennis player of all time thanks to his relatively young age. Having 16 Grand Slams at 32 years is after all an incredible run.
A Short History of the Big Three
Roger Federer was the first to rise in prominence among the current Big Three when he won the 2003 Wimbledon Championships. He kicked off 2004 with a bang by winning the Australian Open, a feat that elevated him to be World No. 1.

In 2005, another youngster, Rafael Nadal, started to dominate ATP tours. He would go on to challenge Federer for trophies singlehandedly until 2007, when Djokovic won his first major title. Britain’s Andy Murray then joined the trio to form what was known as the “Big Four.”
For about five years, the Big Four were so dominant in tennis that they ranked numbers 1-4 consecutively from 2008 to 2012. Over the years, the four players continued to battle out for ATP tournaments. Unfortunately, Murray was later slowed down by injuries. With time, the British stopped participating in tours altogether and the “Big Four” suddenly became the “Big Three.”

Individual Achievements
One of the reasons why it’s so difficult to say who of the “Big Three” will leave the best legacy lie in their individual achievements. Each of them makes a case for the “GOAT” debate even when their grand slam wins are not included.

For starters, Federer boasts of 101 ATP trophies, only second to Jimmy Connors who amassed a record 109 titles. Nadal has 84 total trophies while the Serb has 75 titles to his name. If you account their records as World Number Ones, the Swiss leads once again.

Although he’s been dominating tennis longer than his rivals, Federer has topped World Number One charts for a record 310 weeks. To spice his record up, he topped the charts 237 weeks consecutively. Djokovic has been tennis’ World Number One for 271 weeks, placing him in third place. Nadal ranks sixth with a record of 196 weeks as World Number One.

With such incredible records, it’s not surprising the Big Three are tipped to win most competitions by tennis online betting sites. Even now that a new generation of stars is rising, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are regularly predicted to win most of their ATP matches.

Head to Head at ATP Finals
The ATP Finals brings together the top eight players every year. Roger Federer boasts of the highest number of wins in the competition’s 49-year history with six titles in the singles division. Of course, he’s been playing tennis at the highest level for over 15 years.

He also participated in the tournament four times before either Nadal or Djokovic got a shot at the trophy. Nonetheless, Federer holds the bragging rights. Despite that, the Serb boasts of a better record. He’s won the ATP Finals five times in 12 attempts. By comparison, the Swiss has six titles in 15 appearances.

Surprisingly, Nadal is yet to win the ATP finals despite appearing at the London-held event for eight times. The Insider Blog believes Djokovic and Federer’s dominance at the competition is a major reason for his misfortune.  The Serb, in particular, has been phenomenal, beating Federer 4-2 in their six meetings and Nadal 3-2 at the O2 Arena.

Besides the ATP Finals, Djokovic also enjoys the best record when the trio faced off at different majors. At the US and Australia Opens, the Serb has defeated the Swiss 6 out of 10 times. He’s also edged out Nadal three out of five meetings in the two majors.

To be fair to Nadal, he’s often out of tournaments to battle a disorder called Kohler’s feet. It occurs when the navicular bone develops irregularly. He also suffers from constant knee problems and had to pull out of tournaments in November 2018 to undergo surgery.

The Clay, Grass or Hard Court Debate
If you’ve been watching the Big Three play for a while, you probably know they don’t love playing on the same courts. Nadal loves clay whereas Federer prefers an indoor hard court arena. Djokovic, on the other hand, has impressive records on all surfaces.

In 2013, Nadal and Federer had a public disagreement on whether the ATP Finals should always be played inside a hard court. Obviously, the Swiss supported the motion while Nadal differed.
Djokovic, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to care on which court he plays. He’s defeated Nadal 19-7 on hard courts, tied him 2-2 on grass but lost 7-17 on clay. He also edges out Federer 6-4 on hard court majors although has the better record in the ATP finals.

Nadal isn’t too shabby on hard courts either. He’s defeated Djokovic 8-6 in outdoor hard court tournaments but lost 11-9 indoors and 3-1 on grass. When compared to Federer, he’s won 8 out of 14 times on outdoors hard court, 14-2 on clay but lost on grass  1-3 and indoors hard court 11-9.

To Conclude
Based on their career stats and dominance for over a decade, it’s not fair to consider one of tennis’ Big Three the undisputed GOAT. Instead, we would rather marvel at their brilliance while we can.