By Jürgen Fritz, Wed 24 Feb 2021, Cover photo: YouTube screenshots.
With his clear victory in the final of the Australian Open over Daniil Medvedev, Novak Djokovic has reignited the question of who will go down in history as the greatest tennis player of all time (GOAT). The most important criterion here is certainly the number of Grand Slam tournaments won. Djokovic increased his tally to 18, compared to 20 for Federer and Nadal. But there are four other important parameters.
The question of who is the greatest player of all time is not so easy to answer. Federer and Nadal have won the most Grand Slam tournaments in singles, say some. But Federer and Djokovic, unlike Nadal, have won the ATP Finals six and five times, respectively, while Nadal has never won, say others. Still others counter: Yes, but Nadal has created something unique with 13 Roland Garros victories, moreover, like the other two, he has won each of the four A tournaments at least once and, unlike Federer and Djokovic, also Sampras and Borg, he has won the Olympic gold medal in singles and additionally in doubles. He also won the Davis Cup five times with Spain, while Federer, Djokovic, Borg, Lendl and Connors only won once.
On the other hand, Djokovic has finished the season as No. 1 six times, Federer and Nadal „only“ five times. As of mid-March, the Serb has led the ATP rankings longer than anyone else before and Federer and Nadal can hardly catch up with this record again. Moreover, Djokociv won more B-tournaments (Master 1000) than Nadal and Federer, namely 36 compared to Nadal’s 35 and Federer’s 28. Yes, but Federer moves much more elegantly and is much more popular with the fans than Djokovic, say the next. And the Nadal fans then reply that Rafa has a unique fighting spirit and a unique mentality and that he is also at a huge disadvantage as a clay player, because of the five most important tournaments of the year only one is played on clay, but three on hard court, and when the Olympic Games take place, then usually even four out of six on hard court, which is Djokovic’s preferred surface.
In short, there are many arguments, so it seems reasonable to somehow bring all these factors together into a formula. This is exactly what I have tried to do. Let me emphasise: I am not concerned here with such things as: Who is the most popular with the fans?, Who plays the most attractive tennis? Because these are more subjective questions of taste and less sporting criteria. Nor should we judge who has the highest advertising contracts or who plays the most beautiful or best forehand or backhand, the hardest serve or the most elegant volley. The following is purely about the evaluation of sporting achievements and successes, which can be measured quite well, but which somehow have to be related to each other numerically. To do this, I will use exactly five criteria, nothing more, and weight them numerically.
Five criteria: Grand Slam titles – ATP Finals titles – Olympic gold medals – Davis Cup titles – years as No. 1, 2 or 3
Of course, this is not trivial either, and here, too, one can argue in detail and certainly arrange the formula a little differently. I will try to justify why it seems adequate to me to do it the way I will break it down afterwards. An important preliminary decision of mine is not to include the Master 1000 tournaments (B) in the evaluation. This seems sensible to me for two reasons.
First, it makes it easier to compare them with the 1980s, 1970s and even the period before that, since this tournament series, including its predecessors, has only existed since 1990. Secondly, I believe that in the end it is not decisive for the question of the GOAT whether one has won 35 or 25 B tournaments. The Grand Slam and A tournaments are the most important. Whoever wins them goes down in the history books. This does not apply to B and, in any case, C and D tournaments (500 and 250 series). For many absolute top players, the nine Master 1000s are ultimately only important preparation tournaments for the four majors. That’s why I didn’t include them. That could certainly be done differently and that would probably have a little influence, but not very much.
More important than the nine Master 1000 tournaments – and this is also the second criterion – are the ATP Finals (B+) and the Olympic Games (B+). Both tournaments take place only once a year or even only every four years. Here, too, the following applies: Whoever wins such a tournament goes down in tennis history. And that is ultimately what the question of the GOAT is all about. The same applies to the most traditional and important nations‘ competition, the Davis Cup. Therefore, I take the victories there as the fourth criterion.
And finally, the fifth and second most important factor is how often a player finished the season as No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3, i.e. how many years he was able to stay at and among the absolute top of the world. Of course, this factor also includes the successes in the B tournaments, which are still weighted too highly by the ATP in relation to the Grand Slam events, and the majors are still weighted too low in relation to all other tournaments.
Some remarks on the ATP and its ranking
It is important to know that the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), founded in 1972, is in some ways in competition with the ITF (International Tennis Federation), which is much older. The ITF was founded in 1913. It organises all Grand Slam tournaments, as well as the Davis Cup and the Olympic Games. However, the ATP, which leads the ATP ranking, is very much interested in promoting its own tournament series, the B, C and D tournaments (Masters 1000, 500 and 250 series) and tends to weight its own tournaments too high, those of the ITF either too low or, in the case of the Olympic Games and the Davis Cup, not at all. So anyone who wins the Olympic gold medal and beats absolute top players in the process does not get a single point for their world ranking from the ATP.
The same applies to victories in the Davis Cup. When Nadal won the Davis Cup with Spain at the end of November 2019, winning all five of his singles matches, he did not receive a single world ranking point from the ATP. But when Djokovic won the lesser ATP Cup with Serbia a few weeks later in early January 2020, the ATP credited him with 665 world ranking points for doing so. For its own nations‘ competition, newly created in 2020, the ATP thus pays out plenty of points for each victory, whereas for the Davis Cup and the Olympic Games, on the other hand, they no longer pay any points at all, as they are organised by the ITF.
Structural flaws and weaknesses in the ATP ranking system
Although these structural flaws in the system have improved in recent decades – in the 1980s and 1970s they were much more extreme and the Grand Slam tournaments in particular were in part completely undervalued in the ranking system – these weaknesses still exist. These system flaws used to be so extreme in some cases that the ATP did not trust its own ranking.
In 1975, the ATP ranked Jimmy Connors No. 1 at the end of the year, but awarded Arthur Ashe, whom most considered the true No. 1, the ATP Player of the Year, even though he was only No. 4 in their own ranking. In 1976, most saw Connors as No. 1, as did the ATP rankings. However, for some inexplicable reason, the ATP named Borg ATP Player of the Year. In 1977, Borg and Vilas were ranked No. 1 by most. But the ATP World Rankings had Connors at 1, Vilas at 2 and Borg at 3. And again, contrary to their own ranking, the ATP named Borg Player of the Year. In 1978, most saw Borg as the No. 1. The ATP ranking, however, again saw Connors at the top. Nevertheless, both the ATP and the ITF named Borg Player of the Year.
In 1982, most people saw Connors as No. 1. The ATP ranking, however, showed McEnroe as No. 1. And again, the ATP decided against its own ranking and, like the ITF, named Connors Player of the Year. In 1989, most agreed that Boris Becker was the Player of the Year. However, the ATP ranking had Lendl at 1 and Becker only at 2. Nevertheless, the ATP again decided against its own ranking and, like the ITF, named Becker Player of the Year.
These examples should show that the ATP ranking and the ATP Player of the Year award are very helpful and important, but should also be treated with caution. This therefore also applies to considerations of who was ranked 1, 2 or 3 and for how many weeks. What is more important here – and that is why I only use this data – is who is at the top at the end of a season. The ATP ranking is the most important help here, but not the only one. For more information, see here.
So now to the most important criterion of all, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the total points: the Grand Slam titles. Here, first of all, a note is important.
The Australian Open has only been on an equal footing with the other three Grand Slam tournaments since 1992
The Australian Open was not equal to the other Grand Slam tournaments until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Until 1981, the Australian Open was not played in a 128-player field over seven rounds, but in a 64-player field with only six rounds. From 1982, it was increased to a 96-player field, then to a 128-player field from 1988.
Until 1984, most of the top ten players did not even make the trip to the fifth continent. When Jimmy Connors won in early 1974, there were only 64 players competing and only two of them top ten players, besides himself only John Newcombe. In the final, Connors faced Phil Dent, the world No. 49. The following year, 1975, Connors travelled Down Under again, but then never again until the end of his career in 1992. And so it was with a great many players until the late 1980s, early 1990s. Björn Borg played the Australian Open only once, in early 1974 as a 17-year-old, then never again. John McEnroe played in Australia only five times in the 16 years of his active career, and only once in eight years during his strong first half until 1984.
When Johan Kriek won the Australian Open in 1982 in a field of 96, not a single top ten player competed. In this respect, of course, such an Autralian Open title cannot be equated with the other Grand Slam titles of the time, in which 128 players competed and of these, usually 7 to 10 were top ten players. Therefore, Australian Open titles were rated as follows:
- For an entry field of less than 128 (96 or 64): a deduction of 0.1,
- if the field was less than 64: a deduction of 0.2 points.
Additionally, a deduction of
- 0.1 if there were only 5 to 6 top ten players at the start
- 0.2, if only 3 to 4 top ten players started and
- 0.3, if 0 to 2 top ten players participated in the tournament.
In the case of Jimmy Connors‘ Australian Open victory in 1974, this means that instead of one, this gives only 0.6 points, because including himself, only 2 top ten players started (minus 0.3) and it was not a 128-player field, but only a 64-player field (minus 0.1). Mats Wilander receives 0.7 points for his two Australian Open titles from the end of 1983 and 1984 (field of 96: minus 0.1 and including him only 3 top ten players at the start: minus 0.2). Stefan Edberg, on the other hand, receives 0.8 points for his two victories in Australia at the end of 1985 and the beginning of 1987, as there were now 6 top ten players in the field of 96 (minus 0.1).
Mats Wilander (1988), Ivan Lendl (1989,1990) and Boris Becker (1991) each receive 0.9 points for their tournament victories from 1988 to 1991, because from then on a 128-player field was used, i.e. seven rounds were needed to win the tournament instead of six, and because 5 to 6 Top Ten players (minus 0.1) were now competing.
From 1992 onwards, full points were awarded for victories at the Australian Open, as the tournament was now always played in a 128-player field and 7 to 10 top ten players started regularly.
The most successful Grand Slam players in the Open Era since 1968
Thus, if we weight the victories at the Australian Open up to 1991 accordingly, we arrive at the following numbers of points for the Grand Slam victories since 1968:
- Roger Federer: 20 (more Gand Slam finals than Nadal)
- Rafael Nadal: 20
- Novak Djokovic: 18
- Pete Sampras: 14
- Björn Borg: 11
- Andre Agassi: 8
- Ivan Lendl: 7.8 (instead of 8)
- Jimmy Connors: 7.6 (instead of 8)
- John McEnroe: 7
- Mats Wilander: 6.3 (instead of 7)
- Boris Becker: 5,9 (instead of 6)
- Stefan Edberg: 5.6 (instead of 6)
- Rod Laver: 4.7 (instead of 5)
These successes are by far the most important factor for the great tennis players, who are measured by no other criterion as much as their successes in these four A tournaments. Since Wimbledon 2003, three players have completely dominated world tennis here, winning 58 of the last 70 Grand Slam tournaments (83 per cent): Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
The figures from the time before the Open Era, which began in April 1968, on the other hand, should be treated with some caution because until then professional players, who since the 1930s and 1940s usually played much better than the amateurs, were not eligible to play. Since the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, however, there was an increasing process of professionalisation in tennis, which led to the best players in the world switching more and more often to the professional camp, so that the best five to ten players were largely absent from the Grand Slam tournaments.
This changed abruptly in April 1968 with the start of the Open Era. From now on, tournaments at the Grand Slam and some other events were open to all, amateurs and professionals alike. Hence the name „Open“. And there is nothing greater, more important, more significant in tennis than a victory in the singles at a Grand Slam tournament, especially when really the best in the world are (almost) all competing. But besides the number of Grand Slam wins, which is certainly the most important criterion of all when it comes to the question of the greatest players of all time, there are a number of other factors that are important for the question of the greatest players of all time.
The Career Grand Slam: 0.5 extra points – 0.7 if all four tournaments have been won in twelve months
If a player manages to win every Grand Slam tournament at least once (Career Grand Slam), I give another 0.5 extra points for this, because on the one hand this is a special achievement and on the other hand it shows the versatility of the player.
If a player manages to win all four A tournaments in one season (Grand Slam), I give a whole extra point. Only Rod Laver managed this in the Open Era in 1969, but Laver never won any Grand Slam tournaments afterwards. Indeed, after 1969 – and he had just turned 31 when he won his last Grand Slam in 1969 – he never again reached even a semi-final at a Major. Moreover, the Australian Open in early 1969 was not quite comparable to the other Grand Slam tournaments. For there were not 128 but only 48 players competing there, 28 of them Australians. This means that only 20 players from the five other continents were involved and Laver did not have to play seven rounds to win the tournament, but only five.
In short, the figures before the 1968 French Open cannot be taken over one-to-one. But let’s stay with the most successful Grand Slam players since 1968. Since then, with full competition from almost all players from all continents, including the pros, only these four have managed to win every A tournament with a 128-player field over seven rounds at least once, for which I award half an extra point: Agassi, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
At the same time, Djokovic is the only one who won all four Grand Slam tournaments consecutively within twelve months from mid-2015 to mid-2016. I value this a little higher with 0.7 points.
- Rod Laver (1969): 1.0
- Novak Djokovic (2016): 0.7
- Andre Agassi (1999), Roger Federer (2009) and Rafael Nadal (2010): 0.5
ATP Finals victories: 0.5 points
In non-Olympic years, the ATP Finals (formerly called Tennis Masters Cup, ATP World Championship or Masters Grand Prix), i.e. the year-end tournament of the eight best players of the season, are certainly the fifth most important tournament, right after the four Grand Slam events. I award 0.5 points for each tournament win at the ATP Finals. That means two wins at these tournaments have roughly the weight of a Grand Slam title. The most successful player here is Roger Federer with six wins, ahead of Lendl, Djokovic and Sampras with five each.
- Roger Federer: 6 x 0.5 = 3
- Ivan Lendl: 5 x 0.5 = 2.5
- Novak Djokovic: 5 x 0.5 = 2.5
- Pete Sampras: 5 x 0.5 = 2.5
- Boris Becker: 3 x 0.5 = 1.5
- John McEnroe: 3 x 0.5 = 1.5
- Björn Borg: 2 x 0.5 = 1
- Andre Agassi: 1 x 0.5 = 0.5
- Stefan Edberg: 1 x 0.5 = 0.5
- Jimmy Connors: 1 x 0.5 = 0.5
- Rafael Nadal: 0
- Mats Wilander: 0
- Rod Laver: 0
If two players have won the ATP Finals (Tennis Masters Cup, ATP World Championship or Masters Grand Prix) the same number of times, the player who reached the final more often is listed first. However, this has no influence on the points, only on the order in the listing.
Olympic Games: Gold medal in singles 0.5 points, in doubles 0.2
The fifth most important tennis tournament is probably the Olympics – together with the ATP Finals – because the Olympic Games only take place every four years and it is a special honour for most players to be able to play here for their country and ideally to win a gold medal. In men’s singles, of the twelve most successful Grand Slam winners, only Andre Agassi achieved this in Atlanta in 1996 and Rafael Nadal in Beijing in 2008. I don’t give a full point for that because the Olympics don’t have quite the same significance in tennis as a Grand Slam victory. An Olympic victory in men’s singles is roughly equivalent to a victory at the ATP Finals (0.5 points). I value a gold medal in singles at 0.5 points, in doubles at 0.2 points.
The demonstration tournament in 1984 in Los Angelos, which Stefan Edberg won in the singles, is not counted because it was played out of competition and was not included in the national ranking.
Points for Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles:
- Andy Murray: 1 + 0 = 1
- Rafael Nadal: 0.5 + 0.2 = 0.7
- Andre Agassi: 0.5 + 0 = 0.5
- Boris Becker und Roger Federer: 0 + 0.2 = 0.2
Andy Murray was the only player to win Olympic gold in the men’s singles twice, in 2012 and 2016, and receives 1.0 points for this. However, with only three Grand Slam victories, Murray has no chance of keeping up with the twelve most successful Grand Slam players since 1968. Rafael Nadal is the only one of the twelve greatest players since 1968 to win a gold medal for his country in both singles (2008) and doubles (2016).
Davis Cup victories: 0.3 points
The most important competition for national teams in men’s tennis is the Davis Cup. It is as rich in tradition as the Grand Slam tournaments, has been played since 1900 and is thus even older than the Australian Open, which was first held in 1905. This tournament is also of great emotional importance for many players, although this has diminished somewhat in recent years. That’s why I only award 0.3 points for a win here.
The most successful Davis Cup players among the twelve most successful Grand Slam winners are Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe, who each won the „ugly salad bowl“ five times with their country, Spain and the USA, respectively. Rafael Nadal has the best win rate in Davis Cup singles with almost 97 percent, followed by Boris Becker and Björn Borg, who came to almost 93 percent. All the others are below 84 per cent.
- Rafael Nadal: 5 x 0.3 = 1.5 (Singles record in DC: 29-1, winning percentage: 96.7 %)
- John McEnroe: 5 x 0.3 = 1.5 (Singles record: 41-8, winning percentage: 83.7 %)
- Stefan Edberg: 4 x 0.3 = 1.2 (Singles record: 35-15, winning percentage: 70 %)
- Andre Agassi: 3 x 0.3 = 0.9 (Singles record: 30-6, winning percentage: 83.3 %)
- Mats Wilander: 3 x 0.3 = 0.9 (Singles record: 36-16, winning percentage: 69.2 %)
- Boris Becker: 2 x 0.3 = 0.6 (Singles record: 38-3, winning percentage: 92.7 %)
- Pete Sampras: 2 x 0.3 = 0.6 (Singles record: 15-8, winning percentage: 65.2 %)
- Björn Borg: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record: 37-3, winning percentage: 92.5 %)
- Roger Federer: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record: 40-8, winning percentage: 83.3 %)
- Novak Djokovic: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record: 34-7, winning percentage: 82.9 %)
- Rod Laver: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record: 16-4, winning percentage: 80 %)
- Jimmy Connors: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record10-3, winning percentage: 76.9 %)
- Ivan Lendl: 1 x 0.3 = 0.3 (Singles record in DC: 18-11, winning percentage: 62.1 %)
This brings us to the last category, which definitely plays a role, and a very important one at that: Who is the player of the year, the No. 1 in the world, at the end of a season?
No. 1, 2 or 3 at the end of the year: 1 point – 0.5 points – 0.3 points
Roger Federer is the only player in the entire history of tennis since 1877 to have managed to finish in the world’s top three 15 times at the end of the year.
- Roger Federer: 15 years
- Ken Rosewall: 14 years
- Rafael Nadal: 12.6 years (pandemic year 2020 is counted at 60 per cent)
- Novak Djokovic: 12.6 years (pandemic year 2020 will be counted at 60 per cent)
- Pancho Gonzales: 11 years
- Bill Tilden: 11 years
- Jimmy Connors: 11 years
- Ivan Lendl: 10 years
Of course, it does matter whether you are No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the world. Being No. 1 in the world at the end of the year has a very great significance for many players, which is roughly comparable to winning a Grand Slam. Therefore, I award a full point for this. The No. 2 at the end of the season still gets half a point and the No. 3 gets 0.3 points.
If we weight it like this, we come to 5 x 1 + 6 x 0.5 + 4 x 0.3 = 9.2 points for Federer. This is the second highest value of all times since the first Wimbledon Championships were held in 1877. Only Pancho Gonzales, the outstanding player of the 1950s, has a higher value, namely: 8 x 1 + 2 x 0.5 + 1 x 0.3 = 9.3.
Federer is thus even ahead of the great Bill Tilden (7 – 3 – 1 ==> 8.8), the outstanding player from 1920 to the mid-1930s, who was considered the greatest player of all time until Pancho Gonzales came along. Gonzales and Tilden, are the only ones who can keep up with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic here. Already Ken Rosewall (3.5 – 6.5 – 3.5 ==> 7.8), who belonged to the absolute top of the world from 1957 to 1972, William Renshaw (7 – 1 – 0 ==> 7.5), the outstanding player of the 1880s, and Rod Laver (6 – 2 – 0 ==> 7.0), who is on a par with Sampras, are behind Nadal and Djokovic, behind Federer anyway.
But let’s look again only at the period from 1968 onwards. In the calculation, if two players were both ranked 1 at the same time in a year, each of them gets 0.75 points (1 + 0.5 divided by 2) and if two players were ranked 2 at the same time, each gets 0.4 points (0.5 + 0.3 divided by 2). In years in which three players were ranked at 2, for example, all three receive 0.5 + 0.3 points divided by three, i.e. 0.27 points, and so on. Thus, exactly 1.8 points are always awarded each year (1 + 0.5 + 0.3), so that each year is weighted exactly the same. Not only the ATP ranking is decisive, but also other rankings, see here.
- Roger Federer: 5 – 6 – 4 ==> 9.2
- Rafael Nadal: 5 – 6 – 1.6* ==> 8.5
- Novak Djokovic: 5.6* – 3 – 4 ==> 8.3
- Pete Sampras: 6 – 0.5 – 2.5 ==> 7.0
- Ivan Lendl: 3 – 4.33 – 1.83 ==> 5.7
- Jimmy Connors: 3 – 1.33 – 5.83 ==> 5.42
- Björn Borg: 3.5 – 2.83 – 0.33 ==> 5.0
- John McEnroe: 3 – 2 – 2 ==> 4.6
- Andre Agassi: 1 – 3.33 – 2.33 ==> 3.37
- Stefan Edberg: 2 – 1.5 – 1.5 ==> 3.2
- Rod Laver: 2.5 – 0.5 – 0 ==> 2.75
- Mats Wilander: 1 – 2,5 – 1,5 ==> 2.7
- Boris Becker: 1 – 1.33 – 2.33 ==> 2.4
*In the pandemic year 2020, no tournament could be played for almost 25 weeks. Wimbledon, the Davis Cup, six of nine Masters 1000 (B), six of 13 C tournaments (500 series) and more than 20 of a total of almost 40 D tournaments (250 series) had to be completely cancelled. Therefore, this season can only be rated at a maximum of 60 per cent (0.6). For further explanations see here. And unlike in the ATP ranking for 2020, only the results from this year count here, not those from 2019, which are already included in the 2019 results and of course cannot be counted twice. Purely in terms of the 2020 results, Rafael Nadal was not the No. 2 (that was Dominic Thiem), but the No. 3 of the year, unlike in the ATP Ranking.
If Novak Djokovic, who currently leads the ATP Rankings, were to finish 2021 as No. 1 again, he would pass Roger Federer by 9.3 points and draw level with Pancho Gonzales. He would then be the absolute No. 1 in this category in the Open Era and, together with Gonzales, the all-time No. 1 in the entire history of tennis.
All-time world ranking: The top ten in the Open Era
With that, if we now add up all the points for each player, we come to the following result. These are the greatest tennis players in terms of their successes since 1968:
Formula: a) Grand Slam wins (+ career Grand Slam 0.5 or 0.7 points if all four tournaments were won not in one season but within twelve months) + b) ATP Finals wins (0.5 points) + c) Olympic medals in singles (0.5 points) and doubles (0.2 points) + d) Davis Cup wins (0.3 points) + e) at the end of the year, the no. 1 (1 point), No. 2 (0.5 points) or No. 3 (0.3 points) = total points.
All-time world ranking since 1968
- Roger Federer: (20 + 0.5) + 3 + 0.2 + 0.3 + 9.2 = 33.2
- Rafael Nadal: (20 + 0.5) + 0 + 0.7 + 1.5 + 8.5 = 31.2
- Novak Djokovic: (18 + 0.7) + 2.5 + 0 + 0.3 + 8.3 = 29.8
- Pete Sampras: 14 + 2.5 + 0 + 0.6 + 7.0 = 24.1
- Björn Borg: 11 + 1 + 0 + 0.3 + 5.0 = 17.3
- Ivan Lendl: 7.8 + 2.5 + 0 + 0.3 + 5.7 = 16.3
- John McEnroe: 7 + 1.5 + 0 + 1.5 + 4.6 = 14.6
- Jimmy Connors: 7.6 + 0.5 + 0 + 0.3 + 5.42 = 13.82
- Andre Agassi: (8 + 0.5) + 0.5 + 0.5 + 0.9 + 3.37 = 13.77
- Boris Becker: 5.9 + 1.5 + 0.2 + 0.6 + 2.4 = 10.6
Not quite making it into the top ten were:
11. Stefan Edberg: 5.6 + 0.5 + 0 + 1.2 + 3.2 = 10.5
12. Mats Wilander: 6.3 + 0 + 0 + 0.9 + 2.7 = 9.9
13. Rod Laver: (4.7 + 1) + 0 + 0 + 0.3 + 2.75 = 8.75
Rod Laver was already 29.7 years old at the beginning of the Open Era on 22.04.1968. He was one of the top three players in the world from 1963 to 1970 and won a total of 200 tournaments from March 1956 (at the age of 17.5) to January 1976, the last time at the age of 37.4. So more than half of his career was already behind him at the beginning of the Open Era (about 60 percent). If the Open Era had started ten years earlier, Laver would probably have made it into the top five, ahead of Lendl and Borg, possibly even Sampras.
The same applies to Ken Rosewall, the first Grand Slam winner of the Open Era, who was already 33.4 years old when it started. If the tournaments had been opened to professional tennis players ten to twelve years earlier, Rosewall would clearly be in the Open Era top ten. This is even more true of the all-time outstanding player of the 1950s Pancho Gonzalez. Gonzales was already 39.9 years old at the start of the Open Era. He reached the semi-finals of the first Grand Slam tournament of the Open Era, the 1968 French Open, at the age of 40 – almost 20 years after his first Grand Slam victory at the 1948 U.S. Championships.
Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg are very close together with only a 0.1 point difference. All the others have less than 10 points, starting with Mats Wilander. Andy Murray, because of his „only“ three Grand Slam wins (plus one win at the ATP Finals, two gold medals in singles, one Davis Cup win, once the No. 1 at the end of the year, once the No. 2 and 1.5 times the No. 3) comes to: 3 + 0.5 + 1 + 0.3 + 1.95 = 6.75 points.
Conclusion: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are clearly the three greatest of the Open Era and will decide the GOAT among themselves
These scores make it very clear that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who all have around or even over 30 points, play in a league of their own, with only Pete Sampras coming close with over 24 points. All the others don’t even come close to 20 points. In the tennis quartet, a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic would be worth two Borg, Lendl, McEnroe or Agassi and three Edberg, Becker or Wilander.
The question of who will become The Greatest Of All Time, at least for the Open Era, but probably also overall, will be decided over the next few years between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, all three of whom can certainly win more major titles. Djokovic in particular seems to be hungry and in great form. Moreover, at 33, he is the youngest of the three. But perhaps Nadal (34), especially at the French Open, could also win more A titles. Possibly even the now 39-year-old Federer could strike again, especially at Wimbledon. So it remains exciting and the question of who will go down in history as the GOAT in terms of sporting successes remains open.
- World number 1 ranked male tennis players
- Tennis/Catalogs/World No. 1 male players
- 1877 Men’s Tennis tour
- 1970 Grand Prix (tennis)
- ATP Tour 1990
- Australian Open Draws 1969
- List of Grand Slam men’s singles champions
- ATP Finals
Addendum 1: What if you included the B tournament wins in the All-time world ranking?
If one were to include the B-tournament wins, which one could of course do, for example in such a way that one would award 0.1 or 0.2 points additionally per Masters 1000 tournament win and do the same for roughly comparable tournaments before 1990, then the result would look as follows. If I add another 0.2 points per B tournament win and an additional 0.1 points if someone has won all nine Masters 1000s at least once in his career (Masters career slam) and 0.2 points if someone, like Djokovic, has won all B tournaments at least twice (double Masters career slam), then the following point totals would be added as a sixth summand:
- Novak Djokovic: 36 x 0.2 + 0.2 bonus for double Masters 1000 Slam = 7.4
- Rafael Nadal: 35 x 0.2 = 7.0
- Roger Federer: 28 x 0.2 = 5.6
- Ivan Lendl: 22 x 0.2 = 4.4
- John McEnroe: 19 x 0.2 = 3.8
- Jimmy Connors: 17 x 0.2 = 3.4
- Andre Agassi: 17 x 0.2 = 3.4
- Björn Borg: 15 x 0.2 = 3.0
- Andy Murray: 14 x 0.2 = 2.8
- Boris Becker: 13 x 0.2 = 2.6
- Pete Sampras: 11 x 0.2 = 2.2
- Rod Laver (between 1970 and 1974 alone, without 1968, 1969): 9 x 0.2 = 1.8
- Stefan Edberg: 8 x 0.2 = 1.6
- Mats Wilander: 8 x 0.2 = 1.6
This changes almost nothing in the order of the greatest players of the Open Era, except that Ivan Lendl overtakes Björn Borg and the scores and distances of the others would change as follows.
All-time world ranking since 1968 incl. B tournament wins since 1970
- Roger Federer: 38.8
- Rafael Nadal: 38.2
- Novak Djokovic: 37.2
- Pete Sampras: 26.3
- Ivan Lendl: 20.7
- Björn Borg: 20.3
- John McEnroe: 18.4
- Jimmy Connors: 17,22
- Andre Agassi: 17.17
- Boris Becker: 13.2
Not making it into the top ten greatest tennis players in the Open Era (st. 1968) even then:
11. Stefan Edberg: 12.1
12. Mats Wilander: 11.5
13. Rod Laver: 10.55
14. Andy Murray: 9.55
Boris Becker would then not be wafer-thin, but relatively clear ahead of Stefan Edberg. However, for the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, it is not easy to determine exactly which tournaments to put in the B category, because the tournament system was not as clearly structured then as it is from 1990 onwards.
Addendum 2: What if you give 0.1 points for B tournament wins?
If you give 0.1 instead of 0.2 points for B tournament victories, Björn Borg remains in fifth position with 18.8 points, ahead of Ivan Lendl with 18.5 points. And for factual reasons I still tend not to include the B tournaments in the all-time ranking, but „only“ the five criteria I mentioned, explained and justified: a) Grand Slam titles, b) ATP Finals titles, c) Olympic gold medals, d) Davis Cup titles and e) completed years as No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the world.
Addendum 3: What if you include B tournament wins with 0.2 points and C tournament wins with 0.1 points?
Again, for the period from 1968 to 1989, it is difficult to determine exactly which tournaments should be included in the C category. From 1990 onwards it is easy, because in 1990 the ATP Championship Series was introduced, which is now called the ATP Tour 500. If you want to award 0.2 points for each B tournament win and include this as the sixth summand in the all-time ranking formula, then you could also award 0.1 points for each C tournament win and include this as the seventh summand. The most successful ATP 500 players since 1990 were:
- Roger Federer: 24 x 0.1 = 2.4
- Rafael Nadal: 21 x 0.1 = 2.1
- Novak Djokovic: 14 x 0.1 = 1.4
- Pete Sampras: 12 x 0.1 = 1.2
- David Ferrer: 10 x 0.1 = 1.0
- Boris Becker: 9 x 0,1 = 0,9 (plus several C-tournament wins before 1990)
- Juan Martin Del Potro: 9 x 0,1 = 0,9
- Andy Murray: 9 x 0,1 = 0,9
- Stefan Edberg: 8 x 0,1 = 0,8 (plus C tournament wins before 1990)
- Goran Ivanisevic: 7 x 0.1 = 0.7
The ratios of the top four would thus change as follows.
All-time world ranking since 1968 incl. B tournament wins since 1970 and C tournament wins since 1990
- Roger Federer: 41.2
- Rafael Nadal: 40.3
- Novak Djokovic: 38.6
- Pete Sampras: 27.5
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