Just who, exactly, is the greatest of all-time (G.O.A.T.)? Is Usain Bolt the greatest sprinter to ever lace up a pair of spikes? Is he better than Carl Lewis? Is Pele the “wikkides ting” to ever set foot on a football pitch? As convicted as we may be about the respective viewpoints we hold, the truth is that there really isn’t any objective way for us to say for sure. It’s not at all surprising, because even seemingly open and shut cases can spark heated debate among sports fans.
For example, despite the fact that 100-metre world record holder Usain Bolt is widely acclaimed as the fastest man ever, there are some people of a certain vintage who’ll swear to you that this distinction should belong to “Bullet” Bob Hayes. The suggestion: one of his many scintillating runs on chewed up cinder tracks back in the 60s was “intrinsically” faster than Bolt’s 9.58 second clocking on a pristine synthetic track back in 2009. Times change. Technologies change. Equipment changes. Minds change. Even the very criteria for evaluating greatness change. That’s why so many people will tell you that there’s a fundamental difficulty in comparing athletes across eras.
Federer vs. Nadal
The circuitous route taken above brings us to this burning question: Is Roger Federer the greatest male tennis player of all-time? This issue was put back on the front burner following the Swiss maestro’s latest loss to his nemesis Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of last month’s Australian Open tournament. Many people argue that he is, basing their assertions primarily on the fact that he’s won the most grand slam titles in history (17). I, for one, would love to agree with this viewpoint. After all, I’m one of Federer’s biggest fans. The beauty and grace that his game exudes has captured my imagination since he made his breakthrough on the professional circuit. His type of artistry wouldn’t look out of place if framed and displayed inside the Louvre or some other fine repository. However, in the interest of objectivity, I am compelled to disagree. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Federer mightn’t even be the greatest tennis player of his era. Even at this point, it’s really hard to argue against Nadal’s claim to that coveted crown.
The case for “Rafa” over Roger
Rafael Nadal currently sits in 3rd on the all-time list of grand slam winners with 13 titles. That’s just four shy of Federer’s all-time best mark. At 27, it’s quite conceivable that he could go on winning grand slams for the next four or five years. In the same breath, one has to acknowledge that the muscular, physical nature of his play could lead to him having to step aside long before he manages to assume the mantle that Federer currently holds. Whatever the future holds, his present title haul substantiates the view that he has the credentials to be smack in the middle of the discussion. As of right now, the same can’t be said for the other leading lights of the current era like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Juan Martin del Potro. This trio would have to win a whole lot more slams over the next few years to warrant serious consideration. (Djokovic, it must be said, isn’t light years away from entering the fray.) However, it’s Nadal’s head-to-head record against Federer that endorses his candidacy most stridently. Here’s what a look at it reveals:
- Overall record
Nadal has beaten Federer in 23 out of their 33 career matchups. This includes a 14-6 record in the 20 finals in which they’ve clashed. Nadal has also dominated the duo’s grand slam face-offs by a 9-2 margin.
- Hard court record
Nadal has won 9 of his 15 matches against his Swiss archrival on hard courts. This includes a 3-0 record at the Australian Open.
- Clay court record
Nadal has won the most French Open titles in the history of the sport (8). As the undisputed “King of Clay”, it’s no surprise that he has the edge over Federer on the surface that best suits his game. However, the huge 13 to 2 gulf between them perfectly illustrates how dominant the Spaniard has been in this rivalry.
- Grass court record
Federer is arguably the best grass court player of all-time. On his favourite surface, he holds a 2-1 advantage over Nadal – including an epic 5-set victory at Wimbledon in 2007.
Qualifying for G.O.A.T. status
It’s always extremely difficult – if not impossible – to arrive at the correct answer to any greatest of all-time question. However, it stands to reason that you can’t qualify to be in the discussion if you aren’t even the greatest of your era. As great as Federer is, his less than stellar head-to-head record against archrival Nadal takes a lot of the gloss off of his candidacy for G.O.A.T. status. As things currently stand, the Spaniard seems a worthier challenger to the likes of Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, and Bjorn Borg for the cherished title. Of course, this could all change if Federer uses the last few years of his career to redress the head-to-head record imbalance against Nadal. Only time will tell if he’ll be able to do so.
The Benchwarmer’s Point of View
Batting performances in the recently concluded NAGICO Super50 tournament again emphasized the fact that batsmanship in the region is on its deathbed. Admittedly, there were a couple notable batting displays which hinted at signs of life. However, scores such as 49 all out, 80 all out, and 103 all out again show that regional administrators and coaches have a lot of work to do for the West Indies to start consistently producing world-class batsmen again.