Debating Tennis with the Tennis Insider Part 1


There have been some recent developments at Tennis Abides about which I am excited. The second youtube video recently posted, and my interview with a former college tennis player was quite popular.  Beyond that, new product reviews, interviews, and youtube takes are in the pipeline.  This past weekend, Kelechi Agu asked me if I’d like to do a joint promotion, and I jumped at the idea because of the great work Kel does at The Tennis Insider.  So this is the first installment of two tennis fans separated by the Atlantic Ocean discussing the greatest sport on the planet.  Thanks again for the invite Kel!

Question 1 – Where Does Novak Djokovic Sit Among the All-Time Greats?

Dan: I think Novak Djokovic has carved out a unique place among the all-time greats.  Having completed his quest for a career Grand Slam, having won 5 year end championships, and having 12 major titles place Djokovic among the top tier of players in history.  Djokovic has two unique accomplishments that give him a distinctive position within the all-time greats.  Novak has the most Masters 1000/Masters Series/Super 9 shields in tennis history.  Finally and most importantly, Novak Djokovic is the first man to hold all 4 Grand Slam titles since the shift to majors being held on three different surfaces.  This may not make Djokovic the greatest of all time yet, but it certainly gives Novak an accomplishment no one else has matched.

Kel: True Novak is the first man to simultaneously hold all four grand slams on different surfaces, which is a remarkable feat. However, he does have a few distinct holes in his resume. The biggest one is topping the all time slam list. He’s still gotta catch Rafa/Sampras, before making the push towards Federer. Next on the list is an Olympic medal. Forget gold. Djokovic is yet to win a medal at the games. He obviously has a chance to fix that, this summer but that’s gotta be top priority for him and takes him up a notch in the all time great discussion, if he achieves it.

Dan: Novak did pick up a bronze medal in 2008.  I think Novak holding 5 season ending titles compared to Rafa’s zero as well as having won a Roland Garros title give him some leverage versus both Nadal and Sampras.  He does have two fewer majors, but Sampras never completed a career Grand Slam and Rafa has not won a season ending title.  This doesn’t place Novak clearly ahead of Sampras or Nadal, but he has grounds for an argument.

Kel: Oh did he?  I must have overlooked that.  It still lags behind Nadal’s gold or Federer’s silver (in singles) and gold (in doubles).  I think there are little nuances in terms of the stats.  He hasn’t matched Sampras’s consecutive year end #1’s or Federer’s total weeks at number #1.  It’s interesting when you look at all these guys and discover they each have unique records that haven’t been touched.  Each of those, presents grounds for the argument.  However, each generation also raises the ground/bar a little higher than the last.  Is Sampras still a GOAT contender, like he was when he retired in 2003?  That’s a thought a lot of people are going to process differently. If I were to be asked, I’d place him as my fifth favorite in that discussion right now behind Federer, Rafa, Laver and Sampras.


There is much more to say on this topic, but Kel and I have decided to limit each question to two statements from each of us.  Let me know what you think and maybe propose a few questions for us as well.






2 Comments Add yours

  1. Matthew Harris says:

    I don’t think determining the GOAT should be simply a matter of counting Slam titles, but those are obviously very important and may be the single most important factor.

    I’m a Djoker fan but I’d have to give my vote to Federer. I think the fact that he made 10 consecutive Slam finals followed immediately by another 8 straight is his most impressive accomplishment. 18 out of 19 finals! Wow!!! No one else can touch that although Djokovic has probably been the second-most consistent player of all time. Fed also made 23 straight semis. The next longest streak is Djokovic’s 14. No one else ever made more than 10 straight.

    One criticism you hear about Federer is that he garnered many of his titles against inferior competition. There is some truth to this criticism. The average seed of the player’s Federer defeated in his GS finals wins is 5.423. Nadal’s is 2.114 and Djokovic’s is 2.118.

    I determined this by computing the geometric mean of the seeds of their opponents. Note that when Fed, Rafa or Djoker were seeded higher than their opponent, I subtracted 1 from their opponent’s seed when I made this calculation. I did this for each player to ensure he wasn’t penalized for being seeded higher than his opponent. For instance, suppose a player is seeded #1. The highest seed he could possibly face in the finals is #2. If the #1 seed faced the #2 seed in all of his GS finals, the average seed of his opponents would obviously be #2. Vice-versa, if the #2 seed faced the #1 seed in all his GS finals, the average seed of his opponent would be #1. However, it would be absurd to claim that the #2 player faced tougher opponents in his finals than the #1 player did. In both cases, they would have faced the highest-seeded opponents possible given their own seeding.

    Another question is how to deal with unseeded opponents. Federer faced 3 unseeded opponents in his Slam finals wins. Rafa and Djoker each faced only 1. To address this, I assigned an unseeded opponent the #32 seed in my calculations. I also computed these averages using the geometric mean rather than the more common arithmetic mean. The advantage of the geometric mean is that it minimizes the affect of extreme values. To see this advantage at work, consider the following example. The arithmetic mean of 1, 1, 1, 1, 32 is 7.2. The arithmetic mean of 3, 3, 3, 3, 24 is also 7.2. Those two sets have the same average even though 4 of the 5 numbers in the first set are lower than those in the second set. However, the geometric mean (calculated by taking the 5th root of the product 1 * 1 * 1 * 1 * 32) of the first set is 2, but the geometric mean of the second set is 4.547.

    Incidentally, if you leave out the unseeded players entirely, Fed’s geometric mean comes to 3.60, Rafa’s to 1.685, and Djokovic’s 1.614.

    1. Dan Martin says:

      Very interesting stuff! I have 4 categories in general for GOAT discussions: Who accomplished the most? Who was most consistent? Who played the best? Who had the best longevity?

      I think Novak has the who played the best in place. Federer has the most consistency and longevity. Most accomplishments is hard to judge fully until everyone retires who is in contention for the honor.

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