Friday, January 23, 2015

Impact of Federer loss on GOAT debate

The 2015 season saw its first real shock yesterday afternoon in Melbourne, when world No. 46 Andreas Seppi ended a 10-match losing streak to Roger Federer, sending the No. 2 seed packing in just the third round. Prior to the match, Seppi had won just one set in 22 tries against the Swiss, who hadn't lost in the first week of the Australian Open since 2001.

I have Federer ranked No. 1 on my Open Era GOAT list (by a large margin), and the 17-time grand slam champion has earned it. One of the big reasons he is atop my list is that he has spent more time as the world No. 1 than any player in tennis history. However, there are two other active players in the top 10 of my list, and Federer's loss has left the door open for the other two to make up some ground.

The loss particularly benefits current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who not only saw his biggest threat for the Australian Open title bow out, but also his biggest threat for the top ranking.

With a mountain of points to defend between Indian Wells and Wimbledon, Djokovic's top ranking is vulnerable in the middle of the summer, and Federer was the prime candidate to take it from the Serb. Djokovic has currently spent 130 weeks as the world No. 1, which is far behind Federer's 302. However, because of Rafael Nadal's injury in 2014, he won't be back in contention for the No. 1 ranking again until after the US Open at the earliest, so the weeks could start piling up for Djokovic.

2015 is the third year in which Djokovic has started as the World No. 1 and each year, the Serb has lost that spot in the rankings at some point. Now, Djokovic has a golden opportunity to maintain the world No. 1 ranking all year, which only five players have ever done. However, Federer is one of those five and he did it three years in a row.

Simply with the lack of challengers for his ranking, Djokovic could easily add another 30 or 40 weeks, which could push him as high as No. 5 on the list, passing John McEnroe. Still, I think Djokovic lost his chance at ever being the GOAT when he lost to Nadal in the 2013 Roland Garros semifinals. That loss cost him likely the title, but also the No. 1 ranking, and forced him into a bit of a slump for the next four majors.

The opportunity is there now for both Nadal and Djokovic to make up some ground, but the loss hardly did anything to hurt Federer's GOAT credentials. Sure, his winning percentage will drop slightly, but that is the only statistical loss he really suffered. Everything else is simply a missed opportunity - missed opportunity to continue his streak of reaching the second week at the Australian Open, missed opportunity to return to No. 1 this summer, and a missed opportunity to end a five-year drought from finals at a hard court major or even his 18th major title.

Federer is already the GOAT though. Anything at this point is just gravy. A lot of his records are already out of reach. But it is still worth noting that whatever glimmer of hope there was for Djokovic or Nadal to ever truly enter the GOAT debate just grew a tiny bit.

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