Opinion: A Half Set Determined GOAT Honors

By Peter Lavalle

Is it possible that one tournament is the deciding factor in the ongoing debate about who is the greatest all time tennis player in the history of planet Earth?

At the moment, most people consider most Grand Slam titles to be the most pertinent statistic and achievement in regards to this ongoing discussion.

Currently, the count stands at Federer with 20 and Nadal at 18. Other achievements such as Masters 1000 titles, head to head record, overall number of titles and miscellaneous (titles won on different surfaces) all factor in as well.

The tournament I specify is the 2017 Australian Open. A duel that found Federer and Nadal doing battle for the umpteenth time. The stakes were at an all time high. As was the anticipation. Federer initiated early superiority with a break to take the set 6-4. Nadal naturally came roaring back and won the second set 6-3 to level the score.

This five set Grand Slam clash of titans would boil down to best of three. The third set featured Federer fending off numerous break points to prevail 6-1 and a 2-1 set lead.

The fourth set saw Nadal exact revenge 6-3. The all time best ever argument would come down to one set! Remarkable!

Federer took a rare medical time out before the fifth set, surely contemplating the enormity of the moment. But the stall did not bother Nadal who raced to a 3-1 fifth set lead, with critical momentum on the side of the raging bull. Federer is a dangerous man with a tennis racquet and a major title on the line though. He broke back and then held for 3-3. Unbelievable.

In dramatic fashion, Federer broke Nadal in the eighth game, which included a 26 shot rally, to go up 5-3. In the final game, Federer resisted multiple break points at 15-40 and finally on his own match point unleashed a forehand winner on the line, confirmed by Hawk-Eye. Game, set, match, tournament and um, yes, greatest player of all time, Federer.

Had Nadal won this match, these two all time titans would be equal at 19 Grand Slams each.

On to the criteria. Head to head – instead of 24-15 in favor of Rafa, it would be 25-14. Furthermore, Rafa would be the only man in the Open Era to achieve a double career Grand Slam with multiple titles in each of the four majors (US Open, Wimbledon, French Open, Australian). This is a unique achievement sorely needed by Nadal to cement his legacy as an all surface player, not just a clay court specialist.

Both superstars have Olympic gold medals and Rafa having more Masters 1000 titles and Federer holding more overall titles as well as more weeks as the ATP world no. 1.

If the Grand Slam total count was even, it appears to me that the other statistics favor Nadal thus making him the current greatest tennis player of all time. Only one problem: Federer won.

One single tournament seems to be the deciding factor in determining who is the all time great in men’s tennis. Actually, one set decided matters. Let’s say it like it is: A mere three games determined the status of the best tennis player ever,

High stakes indeed.

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  • Scoop Malinowski · July 2, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Nice debut article by Peter Lavalle. Very good points about how extremely close the GOAT honors are right now and that one half set was the difference. Had Nadal won that match the GOAT race would be a virtual dead heat. INteresting how none of the mainstream tennis journalists and pundits and experts have noticed this yet a public park hacker has 🙂 Tennis Wisdom is infinite and it can derive from anywhere. Well done Peter.



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