Shortly after Novak Djokovic mastered Rafael Nadal at this 12 months’s Australian Open ultimate to lock down his 15th Grand Slam singles title, the simmering GOAT debate got here to a boil once more. We instantly requested whether or not we have to begin serious about the top-ranked Serbian as the perfect ever. Nevertheless it raised one other attention-grabbing query: Is it actually potential the three best gamers of all time are energetic proper now?

Certain, it is possible, nevertheless it’s extremely unlikely. This embarrassment of generational riches — Roger Federer owns 20 main singles titles, Nadal has 17, simply two greater than Djokovic — suggests our metrics for figuring out the GOAT are far too simplistic. The cumulative success of this trio is so overwhelming that it makes you surprise if it is even honest to check them to their predecessors. Should you acknowledge that, the GOAT debate adjustments drastically.

Roger Federer has extra main titles than anybody, however he is enjoying in a a lot totally different period from the celebrities of yore. Chaz Niell/Icon Sportswire

Somewhat historical past is so as, as a result of it helps us perceive how we obtained right here. Up till Pete Sampras hit his stride, most individuals assumed Roy Emerson’s report of 12 main singles titles wouldn’t be damaged within the Open period. The sport had modified an excessive amount of, they thought. The depth within the ATP was too nice. No one was even bothering to play the Australian Open, the place Emerson had collected six of his singles titles.

However two important issues had been additionally occurring: the rehabilitation of the Australian Open (a match that icons Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had performed a mixed whole of simply eight occasions in a complete of 49 years of Grand Slam play) and the homogenization of the Grand Slam surfaces.

By the point Sampras emerged, it was not a three-Slam recreation. The chance to win a serious yearly elevated by 25 %. Simply as vital, over time, the laborious courts on the US Open and Australia grew to become medium-to-fast-paced (relying on the 12 months), the quick grass at Wimbledon was slowed to hard-court-like pace, and the adjustments in tools and courtroom upkeep helped remove the dreaded clay-court specialists who as soon as terrorized seeds on the French Open.

“One of many substances within the success of the Large 4, aside from their being extremely gifted, is that they do not have to regulate as a lot to totally different kinds or surfaces,” Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, who has coached each Sampras and Federer, lately advised “Again within the day, the discrepancy between surfaces opened alternatives and offered challenges. Now the one factor totally different is the motion, however even that is altering. It was once you’d slide on clay; now guys are additionally sliding on laborious, so how totally different can the motion actually be?”

True, Nadal remains to be a distinct participant on clay; his distinctive report (86-2, 11 singles titles), which is unmatched at any main by any participant, proves it. However other than that element, in the present day’s majors do not reward some kinds whereas punishing others. They favor probably the most gifted all-court gamers and cut back danger for them. Therefore, the wealthy get richer.

Contemplating Novak Djokovic’s age, well being and thirst for domination, he is not solely nice — in the long run, he could possibly be the best of all time.

The pace at which these three titans eclipsed Sampras’ report, after Emerson’s had stood for thus lengthy, means a primary haul of main titles is simply the entry charge into the GOAT debate. Different features of the report then turn into rather more vital. These embody head-to-head information, success in different first-rate occasions (like Masters 1000s) and general successful proportion.

Let’s not overlook that as a result of he spanned the novice and Open eras, Rod Laver was denied the chance to play majors for six years beginning at age 24, the 12 months after he accomplished a calendar-year Grand Slam. Laver returned within the Open period after which completed one other sweep of the majors in 1969. He stays the one Open period participant with two calendar Grand Slams.

All this means there isn’t any actual GOAT — perhaps there is a herd of them.

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