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Home   News   Tebbutt: Cooling the GOAT talk

Tebbutt: Cooling the GOAT talk

Jul 16, 2019
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

In tennis there are trophies awarded for winning each of the four Grand Slam tournaments and even an award, given by the WTA and/or ATP tours, for a player reaching No. 1 in the rankings.

But there’s no award for being the greatest player of all time – commonly known as the GOAT. And there are also no actual criteria for the selection of the GOAT – although at the moment it often seems to be one and the same with whichever player accumulates the greatest number of Grand Slam titles.

It’s a cop-out that the player – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic among the men or Margaret Court of Australia or Serena Williams among the woman – who attains the highest total of major singles titles is deemed to be the GOAT.

The GOAT is a concept rather than a measureable quality but it has somehow morphed into simply being about a race to the greatest number of major titles and nothing else.

Whether Federer finishes with 20 Grand Slams victories and Nadal (18) or Djokovic (16) equals or surpasses him – or whether Williams (23) gets past Court (24) – is based on the single arbitrary fact of total Grand Slam victories.

That’s a sample size of eight weeks in the year and disregards the other approximately 40 weeks of competition around the world.

For example – what does it mean that Federer has won the ATP Finals year-end championships six times and Djokovic five times and Nadal has never won the event? On the other hand, Nadal has an Olympic singles gold medal (2008 Beijing) while the best Federer has done is a silver medal in London 2012 and Djokovic a bronze in Beijing 2008. Davis Cup victories could also figure into the final assessment.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

As well, there’s the matter of Grand Slam events not all having the same gravitas. Indisputably Wimbledon is the grandest of them all – very few people will argue that. So are Federer’s eight titles at Wimbledon almost the equivalent of Nadal’s 12 wins at Roland Garros? Looking at winning Wimbledon and the French Open and how it’s applicable to success at the other Grand Slam – over the past 25 years, first-time winners of Wimbledon have gone on to win 58 more Grand Slam titles while the number for initial Roland Garros champions is exactly half of that at only 29.

And what about Federer’s 2009 French Open victory – helped by an unfit Nadal losing in the fourth round and Federer surviving a perilous fourth round against Tommy Haas – would the Swiss great even deserve to be in the GOAT conversation without that Roland Garros title?

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

The number of weeks at No. 1 in the ATP Tour rankings is another consideration – Federer has 310, Djokovic 261 and Nadal 196. Head-to-heads also apply and Djokovic has a positive H2H with both Federer and Nadal while Nadal leads Federer.

People from an older generation might feel that Australian legend Rod Laver winning ‘the’ Grand Slam twice – in 1962 as an amateur and 1969 as a professional – is the ultimate achievement and makes him the GOAT.

On the women’s side, things are little clearer – it’s hard to dispute that Serena Williams is the GOAT. She trails Court 24-23 in Grand Slam titles but there’s almost universal agreement that Court’s total is skewed by her 11 titles in her home country’s major playing against limited international competition and in smaller draws.

One example would be that Court’s four final-round victories from 1960 to 1963 were all over the same opponent, compatriot Jan Lehane, who in 15 appearances at the three other Grand Slam events never got past the quarter-finals.

During this year’s Wimbledon, American Chris Evert, tied with ex-Czech Martina Navratilova of the U.S., with 18 Grand Slam singles titles, made the point that Navratilova might be GOAT worthy because she had a much more consistent record over her career – with 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles contrasted with 72 singles titles and 23 doubles titles for Williams.

Others might advocate for Steffi Graf of Germany with her 22 Grand Slam singles titles. But her total was probably affected by the absence of Monica Seles after the then Yugoslav was stabbed in Hamburg, Germany, in 1993 by a deranged Graf fan. Seles had won seven of the previous eight Grand Slam events that she and Graf had entered – and subsequently won just one more upon her return from a two-and-half year absence. Following the Hamburg incident, Graf doubled her total from 11 to 22.

It would be unfair not to factor in some intangibles such as the aesthetics of the players considered for GOAT status – as well as character, star-power and contributions to the sport. Federer probably comes out on top in terms of the beauty of his game and he and Nadal are maybe a cut above the less-beloved Djokovic when it comes to being marquee attractions and ambassadors for the game. On the other hand, Federer and Nadal can be slightly testy losers while Djokovic unquestionably handles coming out on the short end of a match much better than his two greatest rivals.

Photo by: Wimbledon.com

As for the women, Navratilova’s all-round game and Graf’s athleticism might trump Williams’ immaculate ball striking and Court’s more mechanical aggressive style when it comes to being pleasing to watch. And the naturally-outgoing Navratilova was probably a superior ambassador for tennis compared with the self-effacing Court, the demure Graf and the temperamental Williams.

GOAT selecting isn’t necessarily as simple as a 21-20 edge over Federer or a 25-24 lead on Court in the Grand Slam standings – it’s way more subjective than that.

It’s a combination of many factors and much more than just reducing it to the scoreboard of most Grand Slam titles won.

It’s in the head of every tennis expert, fan, follower and player to interpret in any way he or she wants. And ultimately there are probably just too many personal biases to ever come up with consensus.

Finally, there’s that all-time part of the GOAT – how do you compare generations? There’s yesterday, today and soon enough that infinite expansion into the all-time tomorrow.

DOUBLES DECEPTION IN FINALS

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan were beaten 6-2, 6-4 in the Wimbledon doubles final on Sunday by third seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.

The main take-away from the final was just how well Hsieh played. She is a two-handed (on both sides) magician and her deceptive mix of power, touch and angles was essentially the story of the match. She stole the show and in particular showed an ability to lob with precision that’s rare in these times.

Dabrowski moved her No. 13 WTA doubles ranking up to co-No. 10 with Xu after the runner-up finish and took home her half share of the 270,000 pounds prize money. That comes to around 435,000 (Can).

It was a first Grand Slam doubles final for the fourth-seeded Dabrowski / Xu team and the 27 year old from Ottawa and Jill Hetherington, formerly of Peterborough, Ont., are the only Canadian women in the open era to reach a final. Alongside American partner Patty Fendick, Hetherington lost the 1988 US Open final to Gigi Fernandez and Robin White of the U.S. 6-4, 6-1 and the 1989 Australian Open final to the incomparable American duo of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Liam Draxl, 17, of Newmarket, Ont., and his American partner Govind Nanda, 18, were beaten 7-5, 6-4 in the Wimbledon junior boys doubles final on Sunday by the top-seeded Czech pairing of Jonas Forejtek, 18, and Jiri Lehecka, 17.

Draxl was attempting to join five other Canadians who have won the junior boys doubles event at Wimbledon – Sébastien Lareau and Sébastien Leblanc (1990), Greg Rusedski (1991), Jocelyn Robichaud (1996) and Frank Dancevic (2001).

The next phase of Draxl’s career will play out at the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he has accepted a tennis scholarship.

Together with partner Nanda, Draxl (foreground) was part of the dynamic picture below taken by our terrific photographer @mauriciopaiz.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

SCHNUR CRACKS TOP-100

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

After playing his first Grand Slam main draw at Wimbledon, Brayden Schnur headed to Winnipeg for the $54,000 National Bank Challenger last week. Ranked No. 112 at the beginning of Wimbledon, his runner-up finish in Winnipeg – losing 7-6(3), 6-3 to Slovak veteran Norbert Gombos in the final – earned him enough points to break into the top 100 at No. 97. It also gave the 24 year old from Pickering, Ont., direct entry into the US Open. That depended on Monday’s rankings six weeks ahead of the start of Flushing Meadows – and he’s well inside the singles cut-off of approximately No. 104.

Schnur is the 16th Canadian to break into the top-100 since the ATP introduced its computer rankings in August, 1973.

WIMBLEDON POST CARD

This billboard featuring Grigor Dimitrov was located at the first intersection heading toward Wimbledon Hill Road from the Wimbledon subway station. Struggling lately with a shoulder issue, the 28-year-old Bulgarian wasn’t around too long at the 2019 Championships – beaten 2-6, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-1 in the first round by qualifier Corentin Moutet of France. That may have limited how much Haagen Dazs he was able to enjoy.

(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)