The Grand Slam GOATS

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Three of the greatest tennis players of all time. On the Male Grand Slam singles list, they sit first, second and third, with Feds on 20, Rafa on 17, and Novak on 15. The only players still playing on the tour with more than 1 title are Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, both with 3. No one is catching those 3 legends for a long time.

So why are they the best? Well to start with they have all completed the Career Grand Slam, winning all 4 majors. The only other male player in the Open Era to do this is Andre Agassi. This is obviously very difficult to complete. Amazing players of the game struggle due to the varying nature of the court surfaces and tournaments. Players such as Bjorn Borg, won 5 titles at Wimbledon and 6 at Rolland Garros but none at the Australian or US Open. Pete Sampras, 4th on the all time list, never won a French Open title, even after 13 attempts. He actually only won 4 ATP titles on clay in his career. So the fact that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have managed to all win one of each major is very impressive, especially when they’re all competing in the same era.

If we start with Nadal, because to be honest, his accomplishments are the easiest to explain. He has won a total of 17 grand slams, 11 at Roland Garros, in which 3, he never even lost a set. He is the King of Clay, and the greatest clay court player of all time. 65% of his titles have come at Roland Garros, and he is simply just so dominant on clay, that it is very hard to beat him. His record at Roland Garros is 86 wins to 2 losses. No tennis player has ever won as many French Open singles titles as him. Only 3 players since his first French Open title have won the tournament, which makes the fact Federer and Djokovic have completed the career grand slam very special. His other titles started when he won the 2008 Wimbledon Final against Federer, in what many consider the greatest match in tennis history, and went on for over 7 hours. His next was at the Australian Open in 2009. During this period he was playing some of his best tennis, and had clinched the world number 1 spot from Federer, after he had held it for a record 237 weeks. He went into the Australian Open as number 1 seed, and when defending champion Djokovic retired in the quarter finals due to heat stroke, Nadal became the solid favourite. Between his Semi-final and Final, Nadal played just under 10 hours on court, and a total of 10 sets. The following year, Nadal, having already won the French Open and Wimbledon, reached the US Open final without dropping a set. He went on to beat Djokovic in 4 sets, claiming his first US Open title, and complete the golden slam. He would manage to win another 2 Wimbledon and US Open titles, but not the Australian, losing in the final 4 times.

The next player to cover is Djokovic. The Serb has amassed an impressive 15 Grand Slam titles in his career, and is 1 of only 3 players to hold all 4 major titles at the same time. The majority of his grand slams have come at the Australian Open, with 7 of them coming from down under, that equates to 47% of his total. No one has ever won more Australian Open Male singles titles than Djokovic. Now the majority of tournaments are on hard courts, and although Novak is very good on that surface, we can’t really call him the king of hard. So why the continued success in Melbourne? One big challenge of the Australian Open is the timing. In the ATP and WTA there are no tournaments that take place in December, and only National Team finals and Year end finals in November. This is the only real off-season a player can have. When the new tennis season starts in January, there are only 2 weeks before the Australian Open, where only smaller tier 5 or 6 tournaments take place. It is therefore one of the most difficult because no one in essence is ready. That is why you see a lot of big name casualties in the first rounds. Now Djokovic is well known for his intense training and dietary adaptations, having become a vegan and gluten free in 2010, and although most players take their training and diet seriously, Novak focuses on it that bit more. It is one of the reasons why he has remained basically injury free for the majority of his career. This therefore can attribute to why he performs so well at the Australian Open, because when everyone is still getting back into the season, Djokovic is already performing at peak performance. In regards to his other Major titles, he very nearly completed the Career Grand Slam all in one year. In 2011, Djokovic had one of the best tennis seasons ever played. He won 3 grand slams, Australian, Wimbledon and the US, as well as 5 ATP Masters Titles, a record which he himself has now beaten. He claimed world number 1 for the first time, won 70 matches to 6 losses (92% win rate), with 2 of those losses being retirements due to injury, went on a 41 match winning streak and broke the record for prize money earned in one year. Quite possibly the most important stat of that season however, was that he went 10 for 1 against Federer and Nadal. Nadal described it as ‘probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw.’ Djokovic went onto complete the Career Slam in 2016 when he won the French Open against Andy Murray in the final. Having already won the last 3 Grand Slam events, Novak was in superb form. In a tournament where Nadal retired due to injury in the 3rd round, and Federer pulled out before the tournament began, Murray was Djokovics biggest threat. Having only reached 5 clay court finals in his whole career, it could be said clay was not Murrays strength, After surprisingly taking the first set, Murray won only 7 games in the next 3 sets and Djokovic had his Career Grand Slam.

The final player is Roger Federer. The epitome of tennis. Widely regarded as the greatest player of time, he has won 20 Grand Slam titles. Of those, 8 have been on the grass of Wimbledon, 40% of his total. He won it 5 times in a row between 2003 and 2007, and has an 89% win rate at the championships. The reasons behind his dominance here are quite simple. Although Federer looks effortless as he hits the ball, he actually is a rather aggressive player. Spin, pace and most importantly, accuracy. he may not hit the hardest shots on tour, but he is able to consistently hit well paced shots exactly where he wants them. On grass, a surface designed for an aggressive game, it works wonders for Federer. It also minimises one of his weaknesses, the high backhand, due to the low bouncing court, and in many respects allows him to whip through the backhand a lot more. He is what many considered as an all round player, coming to the net and volleying much more than other players on tour, which again, is an optimal tactic on grass. After winning Wimbledon in 2003, Federer followed up 2004 by defending his title, as well as winning the Australian and US Open, beating Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets. He would then win the US Open a successive 4 times after that. The one title he was then waiting for was the French Open. In 2009, Robin Soderling defeated Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, which gave Federer the best chance he would possibly ever have. He took his chance, defeating Soderling in the final in straight sets. Since then, he has only made it to one other French Open final, and one Semi-final. Between 2010 and 2016, Federer struggled to find consistent form in the Majors, winning one Australian Open and one Wimbledon in that time. Many people thought the record may stay at 17 Grand Slam titles, but in 2017 he added two more to his trophy case, with another coming in 2019. If you ignore the French Open, for Males in the Open Era, Federer is 2nd for most Australian Opens won, 1st for most Wimbledon’s won, and joint 1st for most US Opens won. He is a Grand Slam G.O.A.T. and would have been a travesty of tennis if he was unable to claim that Roland Garros title.

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