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Who’s the Best in Men’s Tennis? It Depends upon How You Measure.


When Roger Federer announced his retirement this week, he was showered with hosannas befitting one in every of the best men’s tennis players of all time.

But was he merely one in every of the best? Or was he the best of all of them?

It’s not hard to declare a favourite player the perfect ever after which search out statistics to justify the argument. Let’s come at it from the opposite direction and take a look at numbers first to see where they lead.

If any single number has been widely accepted as the final word measure of a tennis great, it’s the variety of Grand Slam tournaments won. And there’s actually loads of logic behind that.

A Grand Slam title is the final word goal for many players: The Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open draw probably the most attention and the strongest fields and shower their winners with prize money and visibility. In men’s tennis, also they are known for a best-of-five-set format, a lengthier test than those in regular tour events.

This simplest of measures is the one most tennis fans know:

The Big Three (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) tower over the remainder of men’s tennis history as they do in so many categories.

Each Nadal and Djokovic are still playing, too, and will increase their totals; the 2 between them won three of the 4 Grand Slam singles titles this yr.

Reducing Grand Slam performances to a binary — did he win or not? — is something of an oversimplification. Winning matches and advancing deep right into a tournament are necessary, too, regardless of what Vince Lombardi might say.

The scoring system is likely to be debatable, but what if we awarded 6 points for a Grand Slam win, 3 for a runner-up finish and 1 for making a semifinal?

Now the players stack up this manner:

If anything, it’s just as close. And a rather different scoring system could easily change the order.

For instance, loads of fans consider the Olympics, by which tennis is staged every 4 years, to be a Slam or a near-Slam-caliber tournament in importance. Each of the players won one Olympic singles medal. Add 6 for Nadal’s gold, 3 for Federer’s silver and 1 for Djokovic’s bronze and also you get a laughably close race: 171-171-170, with Nadal trailing by just a degree.

All three men also lost the bronze medal match at an Olympics, and Djokovic did it twice. That’s the equivalent of a semifinal, which might push Djokovic a degree ahead.

Counting only Grand Slam wins, finals and semifinals doesn’t account for early round performances, nor does it think about that Federer got his start sooner than the opposite two players and has had more opportunities in Grand Slams. A straightforward won-lost record in Grand Slam events accounts for each of those aspects. By this measure:

Federer’s longevity counts against him here; some early- and late-career losses bring down his win percentage. The identical could occur within the twilight of Nadal and Djokovic’s careers, in the event that they stick around.

Winning on quite a lot of surfaces is vital to a player’s legacy. That’s why Federer’s lone Grand Slam win on clay, within the 2009 French Open, mattered a lot to tennis fans.

So — and stick to us here — what if as an alternative of adding up the Grand Slam titles, we multiplied them? This might give more points to players who won quite a lot of Grand Slams and penalize the specialists. It might also give a rating of 0 to anyone who didn’t win all 4, but luckily each of the large three did.

Djokovic’s comparative versatility gives him the sting here. Federer is hurt by winning just once in Paris, while Nadal’s amazing 14 French Open wins have diminishing returns by this method.

Tennis is just not just the Grand Slams, and the totality of the boys’s careers should probably be checked out as well.

By way of won-lost record in all official events, they stack up:

By winning percentage, it’s Nadal, Djokovic, Federer. By total wins, it’s Federer, Nadal, Djokovic.

Here’s more to contemplate: Djokovic spent 373 weeks ranked at No. 1 and ended seven different years there. Federer was on top for 310 weeks and five times at yr’s end, and Nadal 209 and five.

Federer won 103 tour singles titles, Nadal has 92 and Djokovic 88. (For once, one other player beats the triumvirate: Jimmy Connors, playing in a much different era, won 109 titles, something for many who intend to make a really contrarian case for the perfect ever.)

While some players and fans dismiss the Davis Cup, others see it as a critical a part of the tennis calendar. Nadal has a shocking 29-1 record in Cup play, for a .967 percentage. Djokovic is 38-7, .844, and Federer is 40-8, .833.

Possibly gaudy stats comparable to wins and Grand Slams are too results oriented. The ATP Tour compiles loads of others to look at the players at a hyper-granular level.

But there’s little clarity here either. Who has the perfect serve? Federer won 77 percent of his first serve points, with Djokovic at 74 and Nadal at 72.

Best returner within the clutch? They rank in the other order. Nadal has won 45 percent of break points, with Djokovic at 44 and Federer at 41.

Possibly it’s time to throw out all those matches against Tomas Berdych and Diego Schwartzman. How did the Big Three fare after they faced off against one another?

Here, Djokovic gets the nod, if barely. He holds a 30-29 edge over Nadal and 27-23 over Federer. Nadal leads Federer, 24-16.

There are probably 1,000,000 ways to figure it. And each time you work it, someone won’t like the way in which you figured it.

In our little experiment, Nadal led in five categories, Djokovic in 4 and Federer in three. But a lot of the categories were extremely close. And if we had picked a couple of different ones, there would have been a special result. Unless you stubbornly determine that just one statistic matters, there doesn’t appear to be any solution to clearly separate the three.

Possibly you’ve got a favourite. In that case, we’ve given you some ammunition to make your argument when you are waiting for the subsequent match at Rod Laver Arena or Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But regardless of who your alternative is, it is evident that Federer’s retirement is the start of the top of a Golden Age for men’s tennis. Possibly young Carlos Alcaraz will scare a few of these numbers in 20 years or so. Or perhaps we’ll never see the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, at the least all at the identical time, again.

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