Friday, March 22, 2013

The GOAT list

Who is the GOAT is the greatest debate in the tennis world today, and it's not going away. A lot of people say that one era is more difficult than another, so you can't determine the greatest of all time. Then there are other people who say that you can't compare eras, so you can't determine the greatest of all time. My belief is that you can't compare the difficulty of eras. Everyone in each era played by the same rules, so nobody can definitively say that one era is better than another. However, that doesn't mean that you can't determine who the GOAT is.

For me, the GOAT is the person who dominated their era the most. I began researching who I thought was the GOAT around 18 months ago. I sort of already had an idea who I thought was the best off all time, but I wanted to be able to have a logical explanation. So I created a mathematical formula to determine the GOAT, and I got Ivan Lendl. Since then I have drastically edited, updated, and improved my formula for the last 18 months. I used the formula to determine the 25 greatest players since 1973 (the year computer rankings began). So let's have the countdown begin.

25. Stan Smith- He was overshadowed by other Americans dominating the sport, but former world No. 3 racked up 634 wins and 36 titles, including Wimbledon and the US Open.

24. Andy Roddick- The last American to win a grand slam spent 13 weeks atop the rankings, won 32 titles, and ranks 16th all-time in win percentage (74.2%).

23. Michael Chang- The former world No. 2 won his only grand slam title when he was only 17. Even though he never won another major, he did collect 34 titles and 51 wins against top 10 opponents.

22. Ken Rosewall- As part of a golden era in Aussie tennis, Rosewall was known for his slice passing shots.The former world No. 2 would be higher on the list if the peak of his career wasn't before the Open Era. He still won four grand slam titles and 445 matches.

21. Thomas Muster- If these were clay court rankings, he would be top 10, but he spent six weeks as the top ranked player in the world and won 44 titles.

20. Arthur Ashe- The player whose name is on the center court at the US Open is best known as a humanitarian, but the former world No. 2 won three grand slam titles and 623 matches in his career.

19. John Newcombe- At 30-years old, the Australian finally reached world No. 1. Newcombe won five majors in the open era and won 31 tournaments.

18. Yevgeny Kafelnikov- When you look at the former world No. 1's stats, nothing really jumps out at you, but the Russian did a little bit of it all. He was atop the rankings for six weeks, won two majors, knocked out 46 top 10 opponents, won 26 titles, and was victorious in 609 matches.

17. Jim Courier- The American spent over a year as the best player in the world, winning four grand in three years. Courier is one of the only Americans to have success on both clay and hard courts. Although most fans would rank Courier between 10 to 15, his inability to dominate lower ranked opponents hurt his ability to rack up titles. Courier won only 23 titles and lost 164 matches to players outside the top 10.

16. Rod Laver- Laver is the one of the greatest tennis players in all of tennis history, but the bulk of his career came before the Open Era, and since computer rankings didn't begin until 1973, he was never ranked higher than three in the world. However, Laver still won five majors and 42 titles in the Open Era, including the last calender slam in tennis.

15. Ilie Năstase- The Romanian was the first person ever ranked No. 1 according to the computers. The two-time grand slam champion is another player who would have been higher on the list if his whole career was in the Open Era. He still won 750 matches and 56 titles, dominating the ATP World Tour when it first began.

14. Guillermo Vilas- The Argentine was the third winningest player of all time notching an incredible 923 match wins as well as 63 titles, including four grand slams. However, that is where the former world No. 2's list of accomplishments ends. Aside from failing to reach world No. 1, he only had 29 wins over top 10 opponents. Vilas is widely considered the best No. 2 player in tennis history, but failing to reach world No. 1 knocked him several spots down on this list.

13. Lleyton Hewitt- As a young Aussie, Hewitt spent 80 weeks as the top-ranked player in the world, but failed to live up to his potential, winning just two majors and 28 total tournaments, while suffering countless injuries. Aside from being the best player in the game for 80 weeks, his top accomplishment was his 61 match wins over top 10 foes. Although Hewitt is still competing, he is far from the player he was over a decade ago.

12. Mats Wilander- The Swede made his way this high on the list for one reason and one reason only. The guy knew how to win majors. Seven of his 33 titles were at the slams. That is the third best ratio of any player on this list. His win percentage was 7.5% higher in majors. Wilander only spent 20 weeks as the world No. 1 and only won 571 matches. Those numbers are good, but they are way below average for a top 15 player on this list. Wilander consistently rose to the occasion when it mattered most at the majors, winning seven grand slams in the span of seven years.

11. Novak Djokovic- Just over two years ago, Djokovic wouldn't have even been considered for the top 25 tennis players in since 1973. However, the Serb has had one of the greatest 25-month stretches (from the 2011 Australian Open to the 2013 Australian Open) in tennis history. During that span, Djokovic won five of the nine majors, reaching seven finals. Djokovic also went from No. 3 to No. 1 in the world, where he currently is after 74 weeks at that position. Djokovic also won eight of the 18 1000 events and now has a total of 36 career titles. With no end to his success in sight, Djokovic could potentially crack the elite eight on this list.

10. Boris Becker- If 713 wins wasn't enough for the six-time grand slam winner to crack the top 10 on all GOAT lists, then maybe I should remind you that 121 of his wins were against top 10 ranked opponents. That is the third most in tennis history. Becker also won 49 titles and was the World No. 1 for 12 weeks. Becker was the model for consistency, winning at least two tournaments every years for 12 consecutive years. At just 18 years of age in 1986, Becker reached nine tournament finals and won Wimbledon for the second consecutive year. Becker went on to win one more Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open twice.

9. Stefan Edberg- When it comes to Edberg the numbers speak for themselves. 72 weeks as world No. 1, six grand slam titles, 41 tournaments won, and 801 match wins. However, what may be most impressive was the way he handled the other legends of his era. Edberg totalled 47 combined wins against Becker, Lendl, Chang, and Wilander. Edberg's biggest weakness was his clay court game, but he made up for it with two major titles at each of the non-clay slams.

8. Andre Agassi- The American may not be the statistical leader in any category, but he was one of the most well rounded players to ever play. Agassi dominated on every surface and is one of only two male singles tennis players to achieve the career golden slam. Agassi finished his career with eight grand slam titles and 60 tournaments won over the span of 19 years. The former world No. 1 won 870 matches and spent over 100 weeks atop the rankings.

7. Björn Borg- A lot of fans would put Borg in the top five, but he is getting any bonus points from me for quitting when he was just 25. However, his dominance in just eight years on the world tour is still enough to place seventh on this list. In that short span, he won an incredible 64 tournaments, including 11 majors. Borg also spent 109 weeks as world No. 1 and won over 70% of his matches against top 10 opponents. Even more impressive than that is his 89.8% win rate at the slams. His numbers are astonishing, but we can only wonder how good he could have been if he continued playing for another eight years.

6. Rafael Nadal- At only 26 years of age, Nadal still has a chance to move up several spots on this list. He already ranks third all time in major titles with 11. A return to world No. 1, where he spent 102 weeks of his career, would strengthen his chances at one day becoming the GOAT. However, a knee injury that sidelined him for seven months could prove costly. Nadal is widely considered the greatest clay court player in tennis history with seven Roland Garros crowns. However Nadal has also had plenty of success on the hard and grass courts with two Wimbledon titles, a US Open win, an Australian Open triumph, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gold Medal for the golden slam. Nadal is currently ranked No. 4 in the world with almost no points to defend after June. As he battles for a return to world No. 1, Nadal keeps moving up this list.

5. John McEnroe- Known more for his tirades than actually playing tennis, McEnroe truly is one of the greatest players in tennis history. The five-time Wimbledon finalist ranks fifth in the Open Era in weeks at No. 1, titles, and wins. In 1984, the American won 13 titles and only lost three matches in the entire year. McEnroe finished his career with 77 titles, which ranks third in the Open Era. Along with seven grand slam titles, he spent 170 weeks as the World No. 1. McEnroe finished his career with 875 match wins. Where McEnroe made his mark in tennis was in Davis Cup ties. McEnroe led the United States to five Davis Cup titles. McEnroe also won eight year-end Championships. Five at the WCT Finals and three at the Masters.

4. Jimmy Connors- The American is the winningest player of all time with 1243 match wins and 109 titles. When the first set of computer rankings came out, Connors was listed as No. 10 in the world. At 38 years of age in 1989, Connors was still ranked in the top 10 in the world. It wasn't until 1996 that Connors finally left the top 500 for good at the age of 45. However, the Americans only accomplishments weren't just the length of his career. Connors won over 80% of his matches, eight majors, and spent 268 weeks as the No. 1 in the world. Connors dominance is often overlooked, because it was stretched over a span of 20 years, but looking at the whole body of work, Connors is clearly among the four greatest tennis players in the Open Era.

3. Ivan Lendl- In my opinion, the most underrated player of all time, Lendl was the greatest player in the Open Era when he retired in 1994. When you look at the GOAT lists of other tennis fans, some list him as eight or nine or don't include Lendl in the top 10. That is nuts when you see that Lendl is in the top five for the Open Era in major titles, weeks at No. 1, titles, wins, and win percentage. Most fans rank him so low, because he lost 11 grand slam finals. However, I think that reached 19 grand slam finals is yet another reason to rank him in the top three of all time. Lendl won eight grand slam titles and was the No. 1 player in the world for an incredible 270 weeks. Lendl also won 94 titles and 1071 matches, while maintaining a .818 win  percentage.

2. Pete Sampras- The American is considered in the top 3 on almost every GOAT list in tennis and rightfully so. Sampras absolutely dominated the grand slams from the 1993 Wimbledon to the 2002 US Open winning 14 of the 41 majors, including a stretch of seven Wimbledon titles in eight years. Sampras knew all about playing his best when it mattered most at the slams. Sampras's win percentage in slams was 9.0% higher than in the rest of his matches. Sampras also had a stranglehold on the title of No. 1 player in the world in his career, holding the top ranking for 286 weeks. Sampras ranks second all time in wins over top 10 opponents with 124 and has 64 titles to his name.

1. Roger Federer- How this isn't case closed boggles my mind. Federer is the leader in majors won, weeks at No.1, wins against top 10 opponents, and he is still going. Federer's records at the slams shatter those of any other player in the Open Era. Federer has spent over 300 weeks as the world No. 1. Federer was the tyrant of the ATP rankings from early 2004 to the summer of 2008. From 2004 to 2006, he lost a total of 15 matches. Federer has won 17 grand slam titles and still believes he can win more. Federer has reached the final of each grand slam tournament at least five times, and at one point, reached 10 consecutive finals. Some people like to argue that Federer played in a weak era from 2004 to 2008, but Federer really just dominated the era so much that it seemed like there were no other good players. If you look at how Federer performed against the players who were ranked No. 1 in the world before him, you can see that he dominated even against the best opponents. Federer had a .770 win percentage against Agassi, Hewitt, Ferrero, and Roddick. Federer dominated the sport more so than any other player and did so for a longer amount of time than any other player. Therefore he is the GOAT.

These are my top 25 and I am ready to defend them, so please leave a comment. Let me know what you think.


  1. Federer is the GOAT - absolutely! Case closed as far as I am concerned too! *high five*

    "Federer had a .770 win percentage against Federer, ...." Federer vs Federer? Am I not understanding some hidden meaning here? #confused

  2. Oh thanks. Nice catch. Says Agassi now. That's what it should have been.

    1. Season of 2015 ended . What is your ranking now ?