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Game, set, match, championship, and GOAT point.

Prologue. (Oct 07, 2023)

When Daniil Medvedev ascribed to the task of defeating Novak Djokovic in the US open final 2023 to an improbability, it could very well have been the mental games that usually precedes such events, except that with Djokovic it has the opposite effect as it turns out often, as you see his younger opponents, gets caught in their own mental webbing and imploding in it.

Djokovic went on to with the 24th Grand slam making a silent statement and subduing the noisy GOAT theorists in tennis, conspicuously absent in the media since. Perhaps that is a sealed matter by now…

The below article written last summer following the 2023 French open, will continue to be presented here unaltered except for some necessary statistics.

Preamble

When Novak Djokovic was quipped with the tongue in cheek question as to what he thought about the greatest of all time tennis player and when it elicited the most diplomatic and intelligent response that one would expect of him, he was demonstrating just one of the traits that made him the champion he is today: resilience and game plan to perfection.

He said, “ it is for the rest of the world to debate and decide”, for he knew, more than anyone else, that for all the exertions that the media is doing to keep that ball up in the air, it is a foregone conclusion at this time and that, it is the beginning of the end of that quandary as to who the GOAT in tennis today is.

This, is going by the numbers of the grand slams – a general consensus of a measure for supremacy in Tennis – which he is likely to consolidate by adding a few more to his tally and leave a considerable distance between him and the two serious contenders presently, Federer and Nadal, with the former already retired and the latter, sort of in the rough, if we can say that in tennis in Golf terms.

Djoko had Just lifted the 23rd Grand slam event trophy at the 2023 French open, a new high, but his only realistic challenger left there in the race, Raphael Nadal may have a trick or two up his sleeve and you cannot rule him out, just as we have seen in the last decade or two with this triumvirate in the realm of men’s Tennis – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, all different from the likes we have seen hitherto, defying  age and our understanding of the possibilities in the game of tennis.

The 24th which would have been a world record for the most, man or women as well as a record equaling 8th has eluded Djokovic at the Wimbledon in his loss to the new kid on the block Carlos Alcaraz however we haven’t seen the last of Djokovic yet, for sure.

Preface

Now the acronym of this terminology relating an innocuous looking small creature in the animal kingdom to a professional Tennis champion may look unfitting to a credulous soul but you are better off not underestimating a Goat in its abilities with which it can scale unfathomable heights like being able to climb steep mountains and trees, a single stem palm tree not spared ,as you will see in plenty of videos on YouTube and in that sense this metaphor might very well be just the most appropriate one.

The GOAT discussions, appearing too colossal to be untangled is dragging on, and not without any reason. There are far too many variables that a pedestrian wouldn’t see at first look, in the tedious task in settling that issue, reason why we have various conflicting outcomes even from the pundits. It cannot simply be attributed to someone’s bias for someone either, though bias indeed is one factor, with as many supporters as for their claims for each of the three tennis legends.

At this point many experts, accustomed to all such intricacies are in a way quite content with accepting the stalemate, the hegemony of the top three as equal or no hegemony at all and may not even push the need to having to pick between one of them. As well these debates, in truth will never abate no matter what.

In short, the matter is not a stuff of mere numbers, but a lot of other factors such as that of one’s heart and mind and the purpose of this article is truly to highlight some of those aspects, rather than a definite attempt at arriving at an outcome, while also attempting to put those numbers in the right perspective.

In the process I shall take you down the memory line – my memory line – of the most breathtaking times in tennis history.

Reminiscences of an era gone by…

Up until about the 1970’s  we had just one demi-god, the Australian legend Rod Laver with his dual great grand slam achievement of 1962 and 1969, a feat unlikely to be matched ever, and tennis had respect for him as well as a lot of reverence, regard, love, praise, adulation and admiration and I will stop there with that adjective because the etymology that gave rise to words like fervour, madness, obsession, craze and delirium were absent and those were perhaps yet to be written into the dictionary until the iconic, ice-cold and almost messianic Bjorn Borg descended on earth and almost exploded into the scene. The swede, picture perfect, carved out for tennis, with his mane and manners, composure, steely nerve in his head and lack of any for facial expressions, often caught the crowd spellbound and had them erupt into raptures of joy at times, or frenzy at other times and hurled many into maniac tantrums only comparable to the Beetle mania, if any.

The phrenzy unleashed by that luminary nicknamed iceborg and his stunning run at the Wimbledon, had ripple effects that had traversed the oceans to reach many distant corners of the world and widespread enough, just as not to spare the little town of mine – Changanacherry Kerala, India which, hardly even knew how a Television or for that matter a Tennis ball looked like, in the eve of the Borg – McEnroe showdown at Wimbledon England in the year 1981.

For a juvenile from a tiny town in the corner of the world where all things realistic Tennis, Cricket, Olympics, Music, Musicians and pretty girls were all beyond the walls of improbabilities, events around them cast a spell on him and riding on the wings of imagination – the latter not bound by any such confines…and on such days as the Roman gladiators battered it out at the grand colosseum, he was privy to it, mortified in time…

Newspapers and radio did the hype for us those days which still left plenty for our creativity. In my case one of my brothers Pinto brought that spell home from somewhere, adding to the tale, his fifty cents and impressions of how McEnroe is about to upstage the bearded wonder. Of course, we had heard about McEnroe by then and the news that he had outsmarted the king of nastiness in tennis at that time, Llie Nastase – no dispute from any pundits this time around.

The rant against umpire Edward James in the 1981 Wimbledon match against Tom Gullickson aced it.

“You cannot be serious …you guys are absolute pits of the world; do you know that?  The superbrat has had those words etched into tennis repertoire for eternity.

Now Jimmy Connors, perhaps the first modern celebrity and the primordial proponent of one-upmanship, with his prior dominance must have filled the tabloids in America with his, on court and off court edicts, however Borg brought his brand more to the broader world stage bringing in a new European dimension for tennis that was otherwise dictated by Connors, McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis and the Argentinian Guillermo Vilas, but mainly by the Americans.

The eventual sight of Borg’s collapses especially on the green grass of Wimbledon gut wrenching, for it is hard to watch the fall of a mighty, of any sovereign, for that matter…

Borg’s rivalry with the American superstars especially McEnroe, his nemesis, did live up to the reputation and we were all soon swamped into the whirlpool of men’s tennis with prompt divisions and fan following, perhaps the predecessor, of such affiliations in tennis to that kind of grotesque scale that we have today, as well as the first of such trilogy episode in tennis.

I reckon that the exercise of this number crunching that we are about to commence, should align from around the time period the US open moving from the Forrest hills clay to the New York flushing meadows’ hard surface in 1978 as well as the Australian open moving from grass to the Melbourne hardcourt outdoors by 1988 and I suppose that would be an easy compromise for those readers who may want to counter rest everything else that I may jot down further here. As well we will pretend not to be aware of any other tennis going on around like the men’s doubles for instance, for this specific exercise.

One fascinating twist, just as we pull the curtain on that era is again from Borg, a script that was as dramatic as it can get, a last act from him, a stunner, as eerie as that of Michael Jackson’s Werewolf in his song dance Thriller, in which Borg unmasks and reveals the true nature of his inner self.

In what is surely an unprecedented occurrence in modern day sport, and Borg the least probable candidate for such an act, he, upon losing the US open final in 1981 to McEnroe, a shattering blow to his aspiration to regain his lost mojo, abruptly packed off, abandoning the runner up trophy ,sneaking out of the back door and kitchen at the players lounge, barely dodging the reporters, drove off in his Volvo, out of the ground, the court, the city and vanished. In the aftermath of that and when the dust settled on that volte-face, he did show up again but only to effectively announce his retirement, at the ripe old age of 26 in tennis at the pinnacle of the game with 11 Grand slams under his belt…

Deep beneath the vast and stubborn iceberg, churns the ocean, serene blue lights in its abysmal depth, with its under currents and mysterious abyss, harboring blooms of marine life with its anaerobes, exuberance, exhilaration, exhalation, and exasperations…

But despite the crumbling of that iceberg, he wouldn’t and couldn’t walk out of the minds of the tennis lovers, his folklore success at the French and Wimbledon and his inability to win the US open continuing to bemuse the fans and even to a point of sending his rival McEnroe to unravel and lose his focus on the game. The latter, akin to a dying candle did flicker bright a bit upon the immediate exit of Borg, battling back and forth with Connors and reigning for a time, but eventually fading away in what can be considered an abrupt end too of another colossal Genius.

The unkindest cut, that even Shakespeare would have despised to script.

Connors somewhat made up for what we were deprived off then, the abrupt end of Borg and McEnroe, with a good mix of some of both those men’s traits: clamour, ebullience and clandestine candour even making up for the years that his renowned peers squandered, playing for yeoman years until he became no more than a journeyman in tennis and faded into oblivion. No retirement whatsoever, abrupt, or not, not anything that mattered. You can’t just brush him off that easily though, as he had by then set some ATP records with 109 titles, still unbroken today and if we are to confer a title of GOAT on those merits on him, he is not a kind who will shy away.

Rumble in the Jungle.

Float like a butterfly sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

This quote is attributed to Muhammed Ali one of the Goat in Boxing.

What can you possibly say likewise about a tennis goat?

Fleet of foot like a cheetah, recoils like a mongoose, thunderbolts on its wake and then …they all fall flat on their backs in agony or ecstasy…. That is the best I can do here today.

London England has a vibe, and it also has its antiquity. Wimbledon is just one sport of such revere and easily vies for being the premier tournament in the tour. And while New York can challenge it for the vibrancy there is a certain nostalgia and romance associated with London despite the distant echoes of the bombings and warfare of the long gone past in the air.

And there is a rumble in the orb during the summer days of lazy, drifting and wandering, especially on and around the grassy knolls about the cities and shires on such days when the stars align for a tennis rivalry. So goes for Melbourne and Paris in their sprightly concrete jungles on those occasions when you hear the rumble, reverberations of it felt even on the couches in our living rooms, on our window to the world, and it just feels as good as you are right there….in the midst of it all…

We will not cover Borg’s failed attempts at his comebacks or the misfortune of his fortunes here but will briefly inspect the void that he left that impacted his compatriots which is significant in the context of the modern-day rivalry of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in which one could surmise that each one propelled each other to unscalable heights. Federer gets the applause here in his dignity to pull on, even after such mighty falls, as well as his great humility in defeat though often they came with a flood of tears. And those came in diagonally opposite manner to Borgs as far as emotions goes and the expressions of it, as Federer cried like a baby to a point that he would have won the crown for waterworks in Tennis, hands down with Murray coming in a long way off at second spot and Agassi close at heels.

Federer’s sentiments have not disentangled any of his fans as a matter of fact and if any, only helped him endure to many more in all likelihood because everybody loves Federer, and I will explain why.

It just so happened that I was riding London’s tube rail, the day Roger Federer announced to the world as the Wimbledon champion in the year 2003, with me being really nothing to do with anything but for the fact that I could read a variety of news papers on the subway, and the many superlatives of his immaculate play against Mark Philippoussis, in the media still afresh in my memory.

By the time he had equalled Bjorn Borg’s five consecutive Wimbledon, the tennis frenzy had tipped to the mercury scale so that it elicited all comparisons with the latter, just as he had looked quite supreme on the tennis court, taking it to the like of Roddick, Nalbandian, Hewitt and Saffin and with twelve grand slams under his belt and a good shot at surpassing the 14 of Pete Sampras, Federer appeared like the greatest of them all. Those were his happy days, and we all liked a champion, especially, the likes of him and he walked straight into our kitchens and living rooms.

The media and sport reporters went into overdrive, poetic mode and a lot overboard for that matter, even dragging philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche to the parade, about how fabulous, artistic and stunning is Federer’s play, and the angles from where he can make incredible shots, his reach, as you would find in the 2006 New York Times article by David Foster Wallace shown in the link below titled, Roger Federer as Religious Experience

https://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html

One cannot be blamed for being a Federer fan. He is one of a kind that you will see only once in your lifetime.

How wrong we were all in harbouring that understanding!!!

There was a thorn in the flesh for Federer though, and it didn’t take us long to find that out with more trouble brewing. It wasn’t to be David Nalbandian who had a good measure on him just around his ascendancy in 2003 even beating him at the 2003 AO and US open and many masters duels nor Marat Saffin who had loomed large as a threat spoiling him at the 2005 Australian open, but a certain uncle trained novice, Raphael Nadal who had just started rolling in the mud in a manner of marking up his territory. But Nadal was a real spoiler in that he was punching holes, in our lyrical imagination as well as our comfort of cuddling up with the feel that our tennis understanding and assessments are right, in him challenging the Federer bandwagon as it evolved. However, there was consolation that Nadal was just a dirt devil, and he was only protecting his dirty mud square – the French Open. After all who and in which era were there players reigning supreme on all surfaces?

He had trailed Federer on Grand slam finals and in the tally which he only did a resurgence towards the end of Federer’s regime eventually catching up with his 20 only by around 2018 or so. Despite his one-to-one dominance over Federer, the latter remained as the best in the game for many pundits, every so often confronted by Nadal’s riveting exhibitions. Federer on account of his image and his record of not falling to any lower ranked folks kept his name intact but not quite fortified. Federer also was able to regain some ground by beating Nadal even in his limelight days like the Australian open in 2019. And Nadal would soon have his days back.

Nadal on clay was more solid than Federer on grass with his top spins, finesse and all and he won the French open a disgusting 14 times and no one looked like capable of overpowering him entirely on any court let alone clay. Despite all his imposing game Nadal, strangely remained fragile in one aspect – consistency – that is, in tumbling to unassuming players on occasions like against Dustin Brown in Wimbledon 2015 which by the way is one of the prettiest matches, I have ever watched, with those deft drop shots, an eyesore for a Nadal fan and a cynosure of all eyes for his detractors.

Here is a you tube link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FrNVOfQVfU

This of course was what is considered a great upset in tennis which in itself is a topic and for the die-hards, an opportunity for another debate as to what was the greatest upsets of them all. Taking a nosedive into it I will mention a couple that ranks high up: George Bastl upsetting Sampras at Wimbledon in 2002 at the court No2 which they called the graveyard of the seeds, Soderling beating Nadal at French open in 2009 and Peter Doohan upsetting Boris Becker at Wimbledon 1987.

For the upset buffs here is a link to many more of them with Nadal torched the most.

https://thetennisbros.com/tennis-tips/pro-tennis/top-15-tennis-upsets-of-all-time/

It is also a matter of curiosity and contemplation figuring out why some players continued to flourish while some other like Dustin Brown despite an onset of talents languish, with just an idiom for aid here perhaps.

 ‘Success breeds successes.

Balkans are never to be left out of world history especially war history. And when they involve it is with telling effect as here in Tennis in the case of a certain Novak Djokovic announcing as an enormous potential, which most unassuming fans and pundits tended to dismiss as – one more of the potential – that is soon to fade away. Besides FEDAL is a packed affair after all…

And you can have only one star or two in your lifetime.

How wrong we were all in harbouring that understanding!!!

Now comes slowly and surely this third party to mess up not only the Federal – Nadal equilibrium but also of our own mind’s equipoise. Given the dynamics, was there any scope and room for any mortals to break into the Federer- Nadal Fortress? The answer is a firm No.

But somehow Novak Djokovic too has scrambled up the pedestal, rewriting the jungle book of possibilities. A rather nuisance in our mental make up to realign our faculties, he looks a stubborn sort in the face of adversity. Spotted as a genuine contender for tennis legacy he was in the radar right away especially of Federer’s, who even attacked his courtside attitude in a bit of virtual encounters and in somewhat engaging with Nadal in the exchanges. One such occasion was when Djokovic was accused of his outlook when coming to giving up matches on fitness grounds. Federer also railed into yet another budding opponent, Andy Murray, this time about the risk that Murray is putting himself in with his style of play which in the end Federer seem to have had a point. But with Djokovic the fact of the matter is that he was a tough nut to crack on the court and if you check some of Federer’s wins over Novak like the US open 2004, it came in hard fought matches with hardly any service breaks, outcomes in which Djokovic had served notice and Federer’s discourses understandably were mere mental games.

For a Federer fan it appeared that there is no relenting on the other end and by the year 2008 Nadal was on the ascendancy as the best player on the planet and more and more of the tennis duels would revolve around the Nadal – Djokovic constellation.

Federer’s game had started to dip around 2007 partly owing to a condition reported as Mononucleosis and subsequent injury but the realisation hit him and the rest of the world, when he was beaten by Djokovic at the semifinals of the Australian open in 2008. Federer admitted this having had to do with his indefensible attitude about having to win every competition and Djokovic assessing Federer as more and more susceptible as he was not dominating the game as before but in hindsight we know that this was the beginning of a change of guard and should be no surprise to all, with the rest of the history Djokovic had at the Australian Open and revisiting how close were some of his earlier grand slam matches with Federer.

So, Djokovic had truly arrived at the great astonishment of the tennis fans that there are now three ‘once in a lifetime’ stars at the same time in the cosmos. To a great extend this is owing to the push and the gravity exerted on each other by the celestial beings, that the compatriots like Roddick and Hewitt simply couldn’t find space and was gasping for air and got crushed into cosmic dust or a black hole.

If you want to detest Djokovic, he will sure give you the fodder for it. A case to consider here is him being spoilsport to Nadal and Federer, as uninvited to some, as also some of his political statements. He has destroyed our understanding of the game and tennis logics. He has wrecked many expensive rackets. He survived many falls. But for his sheer bad luck and coincidence of unintentionally hitting a lines person he would have had one more of US open under his belt. He would have had yet another grand slam, had he sat down to take an innocuous doze of the free Covid vaccination. His number would been dizzier than the already dizzy high of 23.

He has some sense of humor in between the political bad tastes that he trudges into. Has he not fulfilled his due bit of controversy too that is a vital cog wheel for stardom? What else he needs to do to be admired as the best of the best?

Surface tension(s).

When Djoko was quipped recently as to who he thinks is better between Federer and Rafa on a neutral surface he retorted asking what is a neutral surface, could it be ice?

He went on to say that who ever won that match on the half grass half clay is perhaps the better one. For those who are not aware there was such a game, a one-off clash which Nadal won by a whisker for the record and if your curiousness hasn’t been quenched, rather aroused, here is a link to that game.

https://youtu.be/ZNyhjLPmz0U

In any case this topic of surface is a matter of debate and study except perhaps for Jim courier, who has gone on saying that he wouldn’t mind playing on any surface be it grass, mud or cow dung in India for that matter.

The surface issue resurfaced again last week when Djoko discovered to his dismay that the young Alcaraz adjusted to the grass in as much time as you could battle your eyelids twice.

Borg was a baseliner more adapted for the French open baseline game on clay but with a competence to master the Wimbledon grass as well as a proficiency on the hard court (though a US open victory eluded him). Agassi was perhaps the more all-round player among the modern thespians winning all the four grand slams including the Wimbledon grass in 1992 with his baseline play traditionally more suited for other surfaces as opposed to serve and volley and in those days no one saw a cardinal sin, in the inability of McEnroe, Connors or Sampras not winning, let along challenging to win the French open because grass and clay were considered as two worlds apart, like land and sea though not quite two worlds and dominated by the Lendl’s, Wilanders and some odd entities as Gustavo Kuerten and Serge Bruguera who appeared to have been hibernating for the most part except for the two weeks or so of sunbath in Paris and basking in glory of their numerous French open conquests.

But Nadal had other ideas. He grew extra fillets to find a way to creep into the grass and when he did, he also did it in a manner to depose our ever-enduring Federer. Federer on the other hand had also in a way clandestinely encroached on to the clay like none before as he had just ended Nadal’s 81 match run on clay beating him in Hamburg in 2007 and suddenly, we had this rivalry about two well rounded players, yet specialists on their respective turfs leading to the unique experiment at the half grass – half clay match.

Now this winning streak is another statistic which define the players dominance and Federer had his own record streak of 41 on the ATP tour which was incidentally broken around the same time by a curious Argentinian Guillermo Canas to whom Federer had lost two back-to-back matches in a space of two weeks time. So, it is not that as a top player you win everything everywhere travelling around the globe and meeting with different opponent’s, styles, time zones, climate and then these different surfaces. So, while there is no perfect scenario of invincibility for any player we will have to content with certain vital statistics and the manner in which they all evolved.

Back to the experimental surface game, Nadal beat Federer on this hinny-turf and when he beat the latter regularly on the clay at the French open, he did so devastatingly, in exposing some chinks in Federer armour and finally landing us, all Federer fans on the check bones, a sucker punch with his subsequent hard-fought victory in the Wimbledon grass in 2008 over Federer denying him a consecutive sixth Wimbledon. He was also on Federer’s way spoiling his calendar grand slam hopes on a couple of occasions. Nadal did more damage to Federer’s reputation than anyone else. Besides, he wore sleeveless on the tennis court, and he threw the tennis scribes under the bus. There is a case for despising Nadal.

Federer’s invincibility aura ended with his Wimbledon loss to Nadal, as he looked as crest fallen as the ancient roman god Apollo rueing his lost love, Daphne. Everybody has an Achilles heel. Which human being can in a way reign for ever? and if it ever appeared like happening, that is when gods intervened on earth with their silly reasons, as we have observed from prehistoric times or derived from the Ecclesiastes and that is quite conceivable as well.

There is also other sort of tensions between the players owing to their unique alliances, partnerships, relationships, and friendship’s. What is inconceivable though is the dynamics of Federer’s friendship off the court with his adversary on the court, Nadal and vice versa given the chronicles of their epic contests. It is a script that Hollywood has not written yet, but we will move on.

Fan(atics).

Do affiliations change? I offer myself to be a guinea pig in this unconventional experiment.

Often everybody has their nationality and nation to cheer for, except for Indians but for their cricket perhaps. We are cheerleaders for a lot of other countries.

In tennis, for a fact, we did have had a reason to cheer for someone – Leader Paes. There has never been a bigger patriot than him who won more and significant victories against formidable opponents for the country than he ever won in professional tennis, not underestimating his doubles and mixed doubles victories on the world stage with Mahesh Bhupathi and remarkably Martina Navratilova. Had only they, Paes and Bhupathi, been able to somehow pitchfork that alliance further for the sake of just cashing on their privileged position sitting at the top of the world…sigh.

Sania Mirza not to be left out for all achievements in her own merits and Vijay Amruthraj who brightened up Indian spirits in the Borg era also rekindled the Indian aspirations in tennis in their times.

When coming to world cup soccer we cheer for Brazil, Argentina and Portugal and generally favour the south Americans as opposed to the Europeans in what appears partly to do with colonialist aversions. My childhood spend in India were defined by Olympics, Cricket and Soccer interests and my affiliations crossing over to supporting teams like Italy and Germany and France at times influenced by fables of such magicians as Beckenbauer or Zidane. Worse, I have switched alliances back and forth. I am not loyal as a fan and cannot be trusted. I have taken such U turns as having ended up even fondling the ones I despised once. This I know when analysing my position where I loathed Andre Agassi to the core once and flipping to a position of neutrality and then to a point when I was his ardent fan rooting for him in his twilight days.

I state this here because I also ponder about the science and psychology of this typical sports fan’s fanfare, as to how and why one end up spending sleepless nights and kick furniture for a team or a player with whom they haven’t gone out for lunch or even distantly connected through an ex-girl friend…

The first ever tennis match I saw on live TV was not an insignificant one. It was Boris boom boom Becker on his arrival announcement as an unseeded winning the Wimbledon at 17 years of age. 

We also witnessed one of the major back to back upsets in tennis in that edition with Kevin Curren beating Jimmy Connors in the quarter final, and none other than John McEnroe, the finalist in the previous 5 championships and winner of 3 and defending champion, in the semifinal. Though Kevin Curren was a player of some pedigree as 8th seed and had a history of upsetting Connors once before at Wimbledon itself  in 1983, this was still an enormous task when you look at the magnitude of it, because this was a period when Connors and McEnroe were battling for supremacy between them at Wimbledon with Connors wrestling back the initiative from McEnroe who had snatched it so famously  from Borg just the previous year and McEnroe subsequently wrestling it back again.

Effectively Kevin’s victories were a triple upset in hindsight as he also beat Stephan Edberg a future champion to be in the fourth round and with that heist if one expected Kevin Curren to establish and show up as regular fixture in tennis, who eventually showed up was not him but the maestro Edberg, in some kind of twist of turns.

Becker and Curren were both big servers and we saw the intensity of their service game in that final and with that, the age of big servers was ushered in too where you saw the kinds of Goran Ivanisevic for instance about whom it could have been aptly told “men do not live by service alone” as well the gangly and imposing Sampras and Jim Courier slugging it out often. 

Goran’s duel with Andre Agassi, in the 1992 Wimbledon finals for instance, where he set a record for aces, it is his service that undid him in a way of speaking with untimely double faults, which evoked such quotes as “he who lived by the sword ends with it” in the news channels. However he would redeem himself in dramatic style like in a movie script where the protagonist once a hero and now forgotten and ignored stages his come back in style by eventually winning the title after his fourth attempt in the final there in 2001 beating Patrick Rafter coming in to the tournament as a wild card.

Along with that you are also bringing generational changes in the game viewership and Becker no question with his further accomplishments and antics both on and of the court brought international tennis and Television viewership to the fore. Not ignoring the glorious Women Tennis players and their deeds that were as equal or even more absorbing than men, during this period especially. Women’s game, is as good as men’s, in Tennis of any other sports, except for athletics in my observation and about that another time…

Andre Agassi is the next entertainer, a phenomenon that brought in a new dimension to tennis and the best crowd puller ever for the adolescents. With his flamboyance, torn jeans shots and ensuing long mane (which now has been revealed as spectacularly fake) he was the Flo-Jo of tennis. Long sleeve on one, short on the other, mismatching socks, earrings, bandana, and necklaces, that brat was a crowd pleaser like no other, summarily attracting the dislike of the puritans. The talisman also had his Djokovic moments like when he crossed with the Wimbledon authorities about the white dress code, anathema for a Vegan who loves his colours. Is he the one who said grass is for cows? Or was it Lendl?

Now about Lendl, who along with Wilander, Edberg and Becker formed the next trio or quartet we can say, we can also say was a true champion. His reign was also notable but more centered on a familiar narrative in tennis, about the surface, which in this case, his inability to lift a Wimbledon championship on grass despite a constant assault of seven semifinals and two finals. He had impressed one and all but much of the adulations went Agassi’s ways in the following years with the fresh tales the latter was able to produce flawlessly and abundantly. For instance, when he eventually patched up with Wimbledon on dress code, he duly showed up- in all white, as white as one can get, including his sunglass frames and except for the black Nike logo and an orange bat which of course is not part of the body attire by definition. That also was news those days. Front page.

Agassi, typical of the spoiled American kid, reckless and a blot for the generation however had a couple of good traits, amazing’s ones at that. He played great tennis, with the reputation of the best returner of service in his playing days and had an unflinching focus on his game despite all the distractions and digressions he brought along and stamped his indelible mark as the first in his era to crack the surfaces and win all the four Grand slams on the different tops. He must easily be the predecessor that convinced, Federer, Nadal, and Novak that the modern game is about amphibians that live on both water and land and the game is all about being able to constantly adapt.

So, about the matter of allegiance, I had found myself routing for Agassi vs Nadal in 2006 Wimbledon which also showcased the chronicled struggle of a 30 plus in Tennis. No chance we assumed. He was also plagued by injury in his latent days, now bald head for style, until he bowed out losing against a certain B Becker at the US open and in his memorable and emotional parting speech we got to hear a little bit about the player relationship on the tour and in the locker room, as to how hostile a locker room can be and how in spite of it all, he had garnered some respect and enjoyed the camaraderie of some of his rivals, further revealing to us how endearing a personality he was in tennis fraternity.

So, Agassi got me to come around but despite Nadal’s clear dominance over Federer at that point, I stayed put in Federer’s corner because, with this rivalry you are a bit unsure about your footing and the sand beneath you eroding as when you let the waves in the seashores caress your bare feet.

Lamentations of the Youth.

Not just a generation but for over two decades the budding stars have had to not only take the brunt of the grand slam draught but also have to put up with the ignominy of being treated as weaker and susceptible with the brightest stars on the horizon, Alcaraz not doing any justice either with his match up with Dvorkovich at the French open though he made some good amends for that in the Wimbledon final.

Djokovic matter of fact had looked his self for the most part of that recent duel at Wimbledon and in my assessment, with his rhythm as his undoing, disturbed with the drop shots that Alcaraz employed to perfection, to the due credit of the young man who appears to have taken a cue from the Dustin Brown trouncing of Nadal. We should also consider that Djokovic had perhaps had one of those off days when you just missed or mistimed a few shorts which is not surely a sign of a final decline. So, it might just be a matter of time before Djokovic finds an antidote for that tactic from Alcaraz, as he did with Federer’s SABR and if that is to happen, we are in for an engrossing duel at the US Open.

As for calling the change of guard as one, no need to go head over heels as yet with this result and we need a further confirmation from the youths because Djokovic is capable of a comeback as he did with his loss to Medvedev at the US Open. Besides Nadal is on the prowl, though sitting now on a hidden away fence, licking his wounds and smacking his lips at the prospect of prying again soon and the sight of a new prey, who might at the same time be also a daunting task for the aging lion. Time will tell. I would not trust Nostradamus here that much to have prophesised and predicted on the nuances of these lovely gentlemen in Tennis.

If anyone has dealt with the youth any more ruthlessly it is Jimmy Connors. Once upon a time the most important celebrity in tennis before he was surpassed by Borg and McEnroe, he continued his resilience until a ripe old age and was a master of comebacks and a tormenter of the young thoroughbreds.

For our discussion’s sake, he is also perhaps the precursor of what has become a trait of the current tennis triumvirate in the particular aspect of impedance of the youth to a point of annihilation at times. One such incident is his great comeback at 34 years at the 4th round of Wimbledon 1987 where he scripted a comeback from 1-6,1-6,1-4 down against Michael Pernfors and a subsequent thrashing of  Slobodan Zivojinovich and the fallout of which was some exchanges about the matter of reverences, in which he appeared like having rebuffed the young Turks for the reverence Pernfors had for him as opposed to the reverence that he in turn had for his predecessors like Roy Emerson and Arthur Ashe, giving us readers a perspective on the matter of reverence in tennis. Djokovic looks like having taken a cue from him in that aspect of how to deal with the new gen on a tennis court, and his accomplice in this, Nadal, both brutal on the youth and attempting to take it further up a notch.

American tennis is not the same without Connors and alas, there are no bright young stars in the horizon. Pete Sampras, though he climbed the pinnacle, was inconsistent and was shadowed by equally gifted players like Agassi and Courier, though for a time he ruled. Andy Roddick is perhaps the biggest casualty of the Federer bandwagon as he was crushed, despite his never give up attitude, his luck deserted him on such close Wimbledon matches, and in spite of an all out effort including wearing black outfit he somehow withered away and along with him, despite stars like John Isner who was willing to hit it out for any length of time , diminished the allure of the American tennis, that once towered over the world, subsequent to the Australians predominance if I can say that for the record.

With that Tennis dominion moved back to Australia for a while, with Pat Cash, Rafter, and Hewitt and from there it seem to have moved on to Europe and looks like it has no plans to exit that continent, not at least in the foreseeable future.

Youth is wasted on the young, attributed to Oscar Wilde, you cannot say exactly the same about the tennis youth of today. They are in fact a fine bunch and mercurial, if you look at Thiem, Kyrgios, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Zverev with their overwhelming presence. One wonders how the old trio is winning over this generation who are so gifted but perhaps lacking a Midas touch that was bestowed by the unknown on the trio and an extra gear like what Usain Bolt possessed at some point for the finish line. More plausible that the trinity have somehow been to the village of indomitable Gauls and been able to taste some of Druids magic potion.

So, for the present we are again to be content with the ever-recuperating heels of Nadal and the ever-increasing antics of Djokovic. By antics, perhaps it is not his Tennis that brings Djokovic to the front page of the news paper but politics, though it does it more often than before to a point that no one has dominated men’s tennis as he has of late, 13 grand slams coming in the last seven or eight years almost at the rate of, two per year consistently.

Defying age and taking it up to the youth are not one and the same.

We are now looking at the resurgence of Medvedev and the emergence of Carlos Alcaraz the only two who has been able to conquer Djokovic on the centre stage as well as with a grand slam in the interim along with Thiem, among the viable prospects and though Alcaraz especially look strong and promising with age on his side, he is still not time-tested, and it is too early to judge if he is a complete player and for comparisons with any doyens of the game for that matter..

Sampras at 19 did not live up to the billings if you see it that way i.e., by today’s yardsticks. Nor did Becker, Wilander, or Edberg who flourished a bit or any other in the 20-year club with a slam like Hewitt and Roddick and Saffin who were all but a flash in the pan and all in good time were halted on their tracks.  However, to state a fact, in professional tennis they all did their splendid part in entertaining us and had highly successful careers if you don’t weigh everything on the grand slam scale.

Medvedev in the US open and now Alcaraz has come a long way and got the monkey off of their back in bursting the bubble and the curse of being in a vicious circle, opening up a real possibility of the resurgence of their generation and as to who among the young prodigies Alcaraz, Rune, Ruud, Sinner, Rublev, Frits, Tiafoe are going to capitalise on that momentum, accelerate and be catapulted to the forefront is a matter of curiosity for the impending future.

Triumphs of the true Triumvirates. – Numbers.

Numbers are not the criteria but is a criterion and the grand slam events over twenty is now the norm just to make the cut in tennis fame in golf terms.

The Goat discussions began when Federer matched Borg in 2007 and soon when he passed Sampras in 2009 and he remained firm there until 2018.

Then Nadal started his ascendancy and peaked by 2022, which is when the discussions changed course and finally Djokovic has now taken the wheels of late.

There are also the other events like the Olympics, the year- end Masters and the Davis cup which has a lots of say of significance to be fair and for the sake of fair play here and to be sure that we haven’t left any stones unturned in tip-toeing this quagmire, which is where you have placed your foot and allegiance in this wobbly matter of the Goat in tennis, we will document them here as well.

Olympics

If you dissect this, Nadal is the only one with the right credentials – the singles gold and he also has a worthy doubles gold. Federer made it to the list with a double’s gold and a singles’ silver and Djokovics’ shelf for this sport is adorned with just a singles Bronze. Perhaps Djokovic can make up for it as he may have one more shot at the Olympics.

One wonders how these titans with such a clout and command over the terrain fails when coming to the Olympics when it is a matter of playing for their respective countries. Are they not as committed as when they play professionally for themselves.? Well, your guess is as good as mine and there are indeed times, they play for their countries which are none other than the Grand slam events itself. While Federer was aiming for the sixth consecutive Wimbledon in 2008, the country Spain was longing to see a Champion, 42-year draught since Santana’s Wimbledon in 1966 which Nadal was able to fulfill admirably.

Poetic justice was also served for the Wimbledon crowd for all the disciplined, orderly and dutiful clapping they have been performing for umpteen years, suppressing their desire to witness a home grown champion, some 76 years of draught of grand slam win ,taunted by Federer as 100 years of British draught since Fred Perry, in Murray eventually winning the US open and subsequently, Wimbledon in 2013 beating Djokovic, egged on by the crowd .Now this, crowd indeed has a complex relationship with these players who are in fact emotionally connected to them in a strange rapport that a common man cannot easily interpret which in a way are absent during the Olympics, not the same tennis crowd that makes up the Olympics crowd, which is my convoluted theory of why they under perform in Olympics.

There were still elements of personal pride especially for Federer in Murray avenging his Wimbledon loss, right there on the Wimbledon centre court, this time for the London Olympics in 2012 and Djokovic losing a couple of critical matches, but those were in the last rounds of the Olympics and usually to genuine contenders like Zverev and del Potro.

When coming to convoluted theories, I bet no one can match me in its abstract or the infinite time I have personally dedicated for that cause.

Master’s ATP

Coming to the year-end Masters, both Federer and Djokovic have six titles and an equal number of runner ups but surprisingly Nadal draws a blank here despite four final appearances.

In career ATP wins Federer leads both the number of matches won 1251/275 as well as the titles won sitting at 103 below only Jimmy Connors at 109.

The corresponding numbers for Nadal and Djokovic are matches 1068/220 cups 92 and matches 1063/210 cups 96 respectively.

Davis cup

As for this nations event, Nadal makes up for his flaw at the Masters with five for his country while Federer and Djokovic have just one each. No one will disagree that Nadal is the most patriotic in that respect and humble among them. And he takes the crown for niceties as well.

Grand slams

Coming to the major events especially the grand slams, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic has the following figures for appearances in quarter finals / semifinal and final respectively and for the wins with Djokovic now holding a decisive edge.

 F 58/46/31/20             N 47/38/30/22             D 56/46/36/24

As for dominating specific grand slam events they all have their own stamps of authority as well. Federer at Wimbledon, and credible US and AO but a weak French at just one out of four finals and Nadal a brutal French open run and even performances elsewhere but overall, the balanced equation is with Djokovic who has a dominant share at the AO and almost as many Wimbledon as Federer, formidable US open and a convincing array of French open crowns out of an impressive run to many finals on Nadal’s private property.

Some people cannot stand this number crunching, especially an annoyance while watching a game on TV with family and friends. The endurance cup on that aspect quite understandably sits firmly with my wife Shirley who is a Nadal fan, in part for her admiration for his game and in part an express necessity to take the diagonally opposite end of my viewpoint. But my friend, numbers do matter, and you have to put up with me a bit here, as I am afraid it might be a bit overwhelming for some. By the way most of these statistics are from my memory and information from the internet sources which are accurate to the best of my knowledge. Any corrections and suggestions are welcome too.

Rankings and reigns

As for number of weeks as number one Djokovic tops the equation with 395 and still counting while Federer is at 310, and Nadal at 209. Djokovic has an unassailable lead here though he loses out to Federal on the record for consecutive term as well as the number of ATP cups, ahead of all except Jimmy Connors with all the others well behind.

Price money

As for the price money here is the equation as of July 2023 from online sources, with Djokovic uncontested with the figures being around $ 130, $ 134, and $ 171 and several zeroes after for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic respectively.

Head-to-head.

Let us inspect a few other numbers too that everyone seems to analyze, that is one on one.

Nadal – Federer 24-16 in Nadal’s Favour

Nadal – Djokovic 30-29    Almost at par

Federer – Djokovic 23-27 In Djokovic’s favour.

It is key to mention that as much as the head to head seems more or less balanced it is heavily inclined to Djokovic’s side if you just look at the latter part since the periods around 2011. Djokovic also holds the longest tenure as the top seed.

There it is and I am done with the integers. But you must admit that I went soft on it because if you scout online sources for statistics for these three souls it is innumerable and a dazed maze that you will struggle to find your way out of. So,I did cherry picking on the stats that I selected on criteria that just came to my mind as prominent. If you like go ahead and put weightage for each category and see if you can come up with an overall number pick, please go ahead. I wont, nor attempt a vote count unless I find a compelling reason. 

 Let us leave the ambiguities there as much as it is intriguing. However, we will inspect some psychological aspects and other from the impact point. Let’s dissect that as well here.

Close encounters of the third kind.

That is an enigmatic 1977 alien movie by Steven Spielberg which is in my bucket list. All Spielberg’s movies are stunning not necessarily dealing with extra terrestrials all the time. But here today we are discussing men not so far removed from those species……

Djokovic shattered Federer’s supremacy in the 2008 Australian open which was really the first impact anyone has had on Federer ascent other than on clay. He has gone on upstaging Federer at the latter’s home, Wimbledon, winning almost as much as Federer and emphatically beating him there on three finals. He has also beaten Federer on many occasions at the Masters and exchanged telling blows at the US open coming back on one occasion from two sets down which is a rare entry on Federer’s impeccable resume for such statistics. Finally in the year 2015 when Federer reemerged with a larger racket and a novel ploy, a curious rapid attack nicknamed SABR and while we thought he had a good measure on the rest of the clan with it, Djokovic was the one who punctuated that inflatable with his counter punch, innovative lobs for instance in the US open final 2015. Please see the link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT02bD9C13U

He has not surrendered that advantage to Federer since but here we must give some consideration that we have a Federer past his prime here and 5 years of age difference to be considered as belonging to an entirely different generation. Federer would certainly like it put that way.

While Federer was able to land some punches on Nadal despite those timelines, Djokovic has not yielded to that chance for Federer since he began to dictate those terms back in 2008.

Djokovic hasn’t spared Nadal either as in the matter of punctuating his ego. While Nadal beating Federer on Wimbledon grass was a matter of bruised pride, Djokovic beating Nadal on Wimbledon was of no less significance given the dynamics and the mother of all blows was that of Djokovic upstaging Nadal on the unfathomable French open, ran him ragged and to the ground, matching him ball by ball, blowing as much dust and awe as exaltations and exacerbations from the crowd, not once, but twice and being the only one who has earned some respect from Nadal on that red muddy battlefield.

By the way you don’t necessarily have to win a match to awe inspire. Many of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer matches have been such affairs of profound recollections. A few of Federer’s games especially, 2008 Wimbledon against Nadal and 2019 against Djokovic that he lost and 2007 against Roddick that he won, are games that should not be assessed by the final score as one ace could have tilted the equation. Those are games where the contestants were truly equal and a matter of just one stroke or so separating them and not merely the Even-steven that Djokovic was referring to in his recent concession speech at Wimbledon.

To alter the results, would have necessitated external factors and interventions though, like the Earths rotation as postulated by the renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and here is how that happens. Neil was commenting on American football which by the way is not played with a ball ,not exactly, nor played with the foot entirely but the game, the most followed in America with its arithmetical complications and a goal post with “sky is the limit” is definitely American, and in one of the crunch games with the match settled eventually in an extraordinary overtime long shot field goal the theory that spread was that, it somehow defied science, in its trajectory making it into the goal post in some sort of improbability.

His tweet on that as shown below.

https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/653311139254829056?lang=en

Today’s @Bengals winning OT field goal was likely enabled by a 1/3-in deflection to the right, caused by Earth’s Rotation.

As well a link to a you tube discussion video with Katie Nolan, as fascinating as any of his other, more interestingly for our discussion, in which he gives us a glimpse of what he thought of whatever human or inhuman factors that tilts a game in a teams or individuals favour and some interesting insights into sports psychology as applied in various spheres.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_I73eh6GkY

Now I am not sure exactly what physical forces were needed to enable such a tiny deviation permitting one of Federer’s shorts to change course and thereby the outcome, but I can say that the rudimentary elements needed, say if it were to influence earths rotation, did exist then, as those were moments in those extraordinary tennis games, when time stood still.

It is not justice served and I cannot do better if many epic matches involving worthy names do not find a mention on this article however I shouldn’t overlook the most intriguing matches of them all, in many ways including the length of the game,11 hrs and over and an astonishing score board 6–4, 3–6, 6–7, 7–6, 70–68 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon 2010 which was also a close encounter of the third kind.

Video link to that epic is at the bottom of this article

kaleidoscopic shadow wars

Nothing changes your view as dramatic as in a Kaleidoscope and our views on the trio under discussion would change dramatically with a little reshuffle of that amusing device.

If you pause for a moment, and contemplate, while Djoko beat Rafa fair and square on a many occasions question remains if he beat the best of Nadal because the best of Nadal always looked indominable, and the latter has always been injury prone throughout his career. It could very well be argued that Nadal without his foot/knee injury documented well earlier in his career would have smashed many records as he seemed impervious in the way he thrashed his opponents when he was at his best. But alas that is a matter of perspective, and you need it on the transcript for admissions to the hall of Fame.

On the injury saga, Djokovic was also a victim of injuries, and it is hard to say if his form dip around the year 2018 was entirely to that effect or is it anything at all to do with the resurgence of Nadal and Federer and if the latter is the case it takes a bit of sheen off of Djorkovich’s shield. He has also lost to Murray and Wawrinka on centre stage at the best of times, hurting his dominance story besides yielding a bit to the youngsters Medvedev and Alcaraz lately. See these are the teeny-weeny factors that one cannot judge, and that adds to the complexity of the issue that we have at hand.

Federer in a way belonged to a previous generation though it goes to his credit that he extended his career as though to make us feel that he is contemporary of Nadal and Djokovic. They are separated by four years and one year in that order which makes Nadal and Djokovic truly contemporary and Federer in fact eating into their pie.

By the year 26 a peak age in tennis Federer had 12 grand slams while Nadal had about 11 and Djokovic had 5. By the year 30 the conventional dated age in tennis Federer had 17, Nadal had 15 and Djokovic 12.

This is from where they have started defying the tennis performance age. For a reference consider McEnroe 33 yrs. vs Agassi at Wimbledon 1992, Boris Becker 32 yrs. vs Patrick Rafter at the 4th round of Wimbledon 1996, Agassi vs Nadal mentioned earlier. For all of them at 30 it looked a tall order and therefore Sampras must have assumed that assumption in letting it all go at 30 despite his US open victory as his last act and emerging in the process as the only one among these emperors who has abdicated a throne so to speak….

Federer went on to win three more taking this tally to twenty by the age of 37, reaching into the lot of Nadal and Djokovic and to his greatness outplaying the youngsters of those days like del Potro, except in one US open, Wawrinka his country man and to an extend blunted out Andy Murray who in fact sprang up a surprise winning three grand slams, in the midst of it all, almost upstaging the trio and was almost about to redesign this three wheel wagon into a four wheeler but for some over exertion on his part perhaps, without which however he would in a way have just languished out there in the given scope of things.

Nadal for his part has defied his age too to capture another 7 by the age 37 and together with Djokovic chipping into the likes of Dmitriev, Cilic, Thiem, Raonic, Medvedev, and Kyrgios. He had his tenure on top of the world between 2008 and 2011, a three-year period of mastery. He had another term of dominance between 2017 and 2019.

Djokovic is taking a slightly different path blossoming late much like his famous peers but having a further flare at 36, an age where his contemporaries had more or less faded. So, this is where Djokovic is writing his script in chipping into the pie of the would have been trio today of Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitspas and continues to dominate the young ones which can very well be attributed to the guidance er skill obtaining by interactions with the likes of Federer and Nadal.

An alarming prospect here is that he might redefine this further and take it up to the genre of the 20-years’ Rune, Ruud and the one in the limelight now – Alcaraz from the way he intimidated that young stallion at the recent French open which the youngster seems to have overcome of late, but tennis is a gruelling game with temperament being of much significance. Many has said that reaching the top is not the hardest part staying there is…

Deliberations and Synopsys.

So where do we stand in the matter of goat? Again, as in any other sports it is a sort of futile effort to compare a player of a certain generation with someone from another separated by decades.

If we were to dissect it all anyways and are required to pick one name no matter, how do we go about doing it?

Again, one way is to look at the numbers and merit of achievements. The other way is looking at the impact of a player, a certain invincibility on his generation as compared to others at any point of time in their respective careers. In the latter we are looking at a certain awe factor, aura, luminescence, and Influence of their play and how they dominated and vowed a generation of players and spectators alike in a way we said, ‘there has never been one like him before’.

So, if we are looking at the latter and see how we could interpret and summarise those dominance periods, then these are the following in the order of their timelines.

Borg between 1974 and 1980. Won 5 Wimbledon, 6 French open, 2 Masters, and 4 Us open finals with his losses to McEnroe and Connors being the black spots. Also, the record longest winning streak of 56 matches in his hey days. Had he played some more Australian Opens which he skipped in lieu of rest time, we would have been treated to many more classics and in any case his impact on the game during his tenure was telling.

Federer between 2003 and 2007. With 5 consecutive Wimbledon and Us open, 3 Australian, 5 Masters and 1 French open and 3 French open finals losses to Nadal as his blemish. Had he been able to bring some of his clay court mastery from elsewhere to Paris and had a couple of his shots, close to the championship points at Wimbledon kissed the lines, we would have had a different story today.

Nadal with his dominance in two periods between 2008 and 2011 and 2017 and 2019. Where he looked supreme and where 14 of his grand slams came from and his French open dominance was absolute. When he beat someone, he beat them to pulp and in between that same spell somehow, he lost to all and sundry especially in vital grand slam matches. Is he coming back for a final swansong?

Djokovic with a couple of great runs in the toughest opposition imaginable around 2011 and 2015 and who is currently in it, dominating, since 2017 with 11 Grand slam and banishing the young brigade of today. There was a period when he had a unique slam holding all the 4 majors, simultaneously, something uncontested. Remember, he has won the number game….

Now the jury is (still) out.

What the compatriots and peers think is also a valuable tool in arriving at a conclusion here. Agassi mentioned the relationship of folks in the tour as that of foes and not anywhere near like countrymen on a journey together even as there are countrymen on the deck, as professional sport is a different kind. Ivan Ljubicic a No 4 ranked player at his prime has shed lights on whom he liked and disliked with his well documented resentment and tasty words for Nadal. We recently have head from Kyrgios on his flip flop allegiance. We have heard from Tsitsipas on his orientation, all of which but only add to the complexity if anything, as the true impressions is confined to the inner circle. If only it came out without a bias. But we still have some valuable reference here.

We have the mastery of the former players like McEnroe, Connors and Boris Becker from the commentary box, breakfast table or podcasts and understandably somewhat contradictory in their picks .Mats Wilander of a certain stature as a winner of 7 grand slams prefers the term Boat instead of Goat, which is fair game, has stated his pick as Djokovic as well as Becker more or less in that line though it seems as though he is tossing it around everyday in his mind.

Recent comments as appeared in the media from the renowned John Lloyd state the following.

For me, the prettiest player to watch, the most beautiful, the most artistic out of the whole lot is Roger Federer. For me, he is the maestro. Every match you see him play, he would come up with, conjure these 4-5 shots that defy possibilities, and he does it no problem.”

Well, whom one like to watch is a matter of the eyes of the beholder and if we maintain that you like the indifferent grace of a Miloslav Mecir I can relate to that as well. As to the shots that defy logic I do not know if someone has any counterpunch on behalf of Nadal and Djokovic and ready to document it because a lot of prominent writers had got to a point of being tongue tied having committed to the Federer cause too much, I think.

In any case the overall numbers put Djokovic firmly on the GOAT driver seat which is somewhat reflected on the recent reports like in the Forbes magazine and elsewhere which indicated that the debate is perhaps over to a point I wonder if it is not a miracle that it is not handed to Djokovic on a silver platter yet.

However at least one report on cyberspace shows that the AI and some prominent pioneers seems to think otherwise and is rooting for Federer instead as well as not all are ready to deliver their verdicts as they continue to ponder and ponder….

So many folks refusing to combat with just the numbers alone are harping on the factors like impression and improvisation, the matter of the heart and mind, which indeed is down to each and every individual and their perceptions and perspectives.

So If we are to go by that luminescence aspect and if I am put on the spot and have to do a reluctant and courageous selection, just so, to safeguard my side and ensure that I will not be set aside when the spectre arise as to who I think is the greatest between Lebron James and Michele Jordan, Maradona and Pele, Tendulkar and Bradman,  just for that purpose , I dare do mine here.

Federer, Borg, Nadal, and Djokovic in that order….

Epilogue

We have seen such abundance of excellence already that one wonders if there can be anymore librettos left. When we thought of Federer as the lone star, there comes Nadal in our lifetime and when we settled with him as the last prophet, there again we have, all in front of our eyes Djokovic shining even brighter. Are there any more surprises in Djokovic’s armour? Will Nadal comeback for a last hurrah and lure us again into his wizardry?

But we also know now, absolutely, that these are once in a lifetime events for us. Three thunder bolts do not strike the same spot. No chance. So, we can all safely conclude this time around that the spectacle that we were granted the liberty to witness was an exception and it is unlikely or quite improbable that someone else will come and outmaneuver this trio of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in our lifetime. That looks like a safe bet for a tennis scribe…for now…

……until, all in good time the world will watch in abated breadth, some consternation and astonishment, a toddler somewhere in a muddy corner of the world today, currently chasing butterflies and tadpoles and dancing to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”, has his attention distracted and reoriented for a moment, to chase, up a steep mountain, what appears like a certain ..GOAT… 

Game, set, match and GOAT point…

First Published, blog, July 21, 2023.

Siby Kuttemperoor

 

 

 

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