We humans, inherently, have a tendency to choose; or as they say, have the ‘choice to choose,’ which in fact places us above the gods–they can’t sin, as spiritual doctrines declare. When it comes to sports, we tend to look for superlative. In performance, in records, in attitude, and in almost every subtle gesture that the athletes make. The longevity of their career, defiance to setbacks, negating the injuries, and performing at the highest level raising their game every time they compete. Every sport has multiple players who achieve success and add value to the overall experience, but unfortunately, almost every enthusiast has a favorite. There are minute and often clandestine feelings that make a sports-lover to choose to pick his/her favorite athlete in any game.
The debate of choosing the best often involves arguments and counter-arguments in the favor of different players. All arguments carry a different level of weight for different people, and rationally speaking, they all look just fine. The best thing about such a debate, if it happens passionately in any particular sport, is that it is indicative of fierce competition and continuous growth in the popularity of the game.
This is what happened with tennis. It was considered a very sophisticated and classic game, which involved gentlemanly behavior (sometimes this norm was violated by individual players) and soft gestures. The players came and went, but the world was not debating about them until the trio happened–the golden age of tennis dawned when Roger Federer arrived on the scene. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic quickly followed, and together they took the level of competition, excitement, and commitment to altogether new heights, untouched till then.
Roger Federer was perfection personified–he had everything that a tennis player could think of. If you closely see his game, there are no flaws. He looks so complete. The best thing is that he fulfilled his potential by becoming the best player in the world, shattering records after records.
Rafael Nadal was a gust of freshness bringing the spirit of competitiveness as his main weapon. His mastery over clay alone could, arguably, make him the best player in the world because every great player male or female (may be Steffi Graf being a slight exception) was troubled by the Parisian sand. Yet, he excelled on all surfaces like none other and won every single possible tournament. His athleticism, his commitment to every point, and never-say-die attitude are beacons of inspiration for generations to come. Not to ignore his humbleness!
Novak Djokovic seemed invincible–once he fixed his diet and fitness, it seems he was infallible. The only player to hold all Grand Slams at one point in the Open Era and earning the highest prize-money. He has a positive win-loss record over every player. Not to ignore his joker-like antics and impersonations, and appreciation of rivals within a match when they score a point over him.
Frankly, for a genuine tennis fan, it is difficult to declare who is the GOAT–Greatest of All Times. All these three players are serious contenders for the titles but they have trumped each other on numerous occasions and on various fronts. No single argument could stand-out as a champion.
Number of weeks on the top of the rankings, count of titles won, amount of prize-money accumulated could be statistical figures only–they can’t be used as the deciding metric of greatest on the stand-alone basis.
The magic lies in the fact that these champions happened to tennis and took the game to newer heights. They set benchmarks and entertained the viewers more than they expected. It is not about who is the best, but about how they brought out the best of tennis with their craft.
Personally, I don’t care who is the goat, the sheep or the lamb (in no particular order)!