Roger v/s Rafa: The GOAT Debate
On Sunday, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka humbled Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final, two days after Rafa had meted out similar treatment in the semi-final to Stan’s fellow countryman, Roger Federer. A win for Rafa would have given him 14 Grand Slams, only three behind Federer, which would have left the whole GOAT debate even more unsettled.
GOAT? That’s Greatest Of All Time – an acronym that has been used innumerable times in tennis over the last few years. The battle for men’s tennis supremacy has never been more fascinating. Federer, Rafa, and Novak Djokovic have been the three best players since almost a decade. Earlier, we had Borg, McEnroe, Connors, and of course, Pete Sampras. But who deserves the GOAT title? If we go by the numbers, records, and championships it’s pretty much down to two guys – Federer and Rafa.
Here are some ridiculous numbers that Federer fans will base their case on: 17 Grand Slam titles, ranked #1 for 302 weeks, including a 237-consecutive-week stretch, 23 consecutive GS semi-finals, 36 straight GS quarter finals, reaching the finals of each GS at least 5 times, 24 total GS finals (with 10 in a row), and 6 ATP World Tour Finals (considered by many as the ‘fifth’ Grand Slam) – all world records. He’s also got 1 Olympic Doubles Gold (with Stan), and 1 Olympic Singles Silver medal. Phew. I may have missed a few, but isn’t that enough?
Rafa fans, on the other hand, apart from his 13 Grand Slams, need this one important statistic: a head-to-head record of 23-10 against Federer. Rafa has held the upper hand over Federer on almost all surfaces, except grass.
Some have asked – how can you be considered the Greatest Of All Time when you are not even the best of your own time? Ultimately, I think the GOAT question in men’s tennis will probably come down to who has the most Grand Slams.
True, Federer has a bad record against Rafa, especially on clay. But let’s acknowledge what Federer has achieved on clay – easily his weakest surface. He has reached the French Open finals 5 times, winning one, and losing the other 4 times to Rafa. Federer has won 10 clay-court titles in total. In fact, if Rafa didn’t exist, we would be talking about Federer as the greatest clay-courter of all time. Despite his struggles against Rafa, Federer has been at the top of the sport for a decade, displaying a level of consistency and durability that is unheard of in any sport. He has done this when the competition was, and is, as tough as it’s ever been. He has been a perennial force when other players had/have been at their best. To name a few: Agassi, Hewitt, Safin, Roddick, Djokovic, Murray, and of course, Rafa.
Federer has accomplished what he has over the years while being remarkably injury-free, and as mentioned earlier, incredibly consistent. Consistency is often underrated in tennis, or for that matter, any sport. The fact that Federer, in addition to all the titles and records, has been able to remain at, or near the top year after year, tournament after tournament, is testament to his greatness. And all this by playing the sport so elegantly and with such finesse, it makes one wonder how beautiful hitting a yellow fuzzy ball on a court can look. Do yourself a favor: go to Youtube, and search for “Federer’s greatest shots”, or “Federer’s best points”, and enjoy the show. You will not regret it.
Ultimately, the indefatigable Rafa may have the last word in the GOAT debate, and I’m sure I’ll have millions of tennis fans agree with me. His brute force, lethal top-spin forehand, blistering backhand, and never say die attitude will win him several more tournaments. He may even end up equaling, or surpassing Federer’s tally of 17 Grand Slams. Were that to happen, it would make it tough even for the most loyal and passionate Federer fans (including me) to deny Rafa the GOAT label.
Because in tennis, beauty doesn’t matter much. Numbers and records do.
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