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GOAT: Novak Djokovic closes Grand Slam gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

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Not only was Novak Djokovic playing for the Australian Open title on Sunday, he was playing catch-up in the race to be crowned the 'GOAT' in men's tennis.

The number of Grand Slam titles is the most obvious and easiest metric for those who wish to determine – and not everyone does – which man is the Greatest Of All Time.

Serbia's Djokovic won in Melbourne to land an 18th major title, moving him two behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer's all-time leading tally of 20 Grand Slam singles victories.

Beating Russia's Daniil Medvedev for a ninth Australian Open title may prove to be pivotal in the race.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 20 Grand Slam titles, with Novak Djokovic just behind on 18

The 33-year-old is a year younger than Nadal and seems to have plenty of time on his side over 39-year-old Federer, who did not play in Melbourne because of a knee injury.

For some, the 'GOAT' discussion is frivolous and does a disservice to the achievements of each player in their own right.

Looking purely at the numbers does not tell the full picture. It is not possible to quantify their different playing styles, how they have adapted their games, their physical and mental strength, nor how they have overcome the tough moments that have peppered all of their careers.

But it does provide the framework for the debate. Here, BBC Sport crunches the statistics for you to consider and then have your say in the comments section at the bottom.

From a clear frontrunner to a three-horse race

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The race to be crowned the 'GOAT' – in terms of major titles, at least – is tighter between the top three men than it ever has been before.

When Federer overtook Pete Sampras' previous best mark – winning his 15th Grand Slam title, aged 27, at Wimbledon in 2009 – few thought he would ever be caught.

At that stage, 23-year-old Nadal had won six majors and 22-year-old Djokovic had not added to his maiden title at the Australian Open in 2008.

By the time Novak Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title in 2008, Roger Federer had already won 13 and Rafael Nadal had won five

After winning at least one major in every year between 2003 and 2010, Federer's trajectory began to plateau during 2011, the year Djokovic took his game to new heights.

Another Wimbledon title followed in 2012 but then, thanks to a combination of his rivals' brilliance and his injuries, the Swiss did not win another major in the next four years.

Most had written him off as Nadal and Djokovic closed in on his tally, before Federer's renaissance in 2017 – on the back of his rivals stumbling in the race because of injury and loss of form – kept him at least three titles ahead.

That was until 2019 when Nadal and Djokovic shared the four majors equally between them, leaving the trio closer together than ever.

Now Federer has company – for the first time since he was briefly level with Sampras in 2009 – after Nadal's win at Roland Garros last year.

Bar chart showing the total of Grand Slam matches played and won by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Federer has won 362 and lost 59, Nadal has won 287 and lost 40, Djokovic has won 303 and lost 45

How do they compare across the different surfaces?

Some argue that Nadal's utter dominance on the Roland Garros clay means he is perhaps not as complete an all-round player as Federer and Djokovic.

The 'King of Clay' has won 13 of his 20 major titles in Paris. Neither Federer nor Djokovic have been as dominant as that at one place, although neither has any other player – male or female – in the history of the sport.

But Federer and Djokovic do each have a Grand Slam they have bossed over the years and at which they hold the record for the number of men's titles won.

Djokovic has claimed nine of his 18 victories on the Australian Open hard courts, while Federer has won eight of his 20 majors on the Wimbledon grass.

Bar chart showing how many titles Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won at each of the four Grand Slams

However, there is still one feat evading them. Neither Federer, Nadal nor Djokovic have managed to become the first man in the Open era to win each of the four Grand Slams twice.

Djokovic had the opportunity when he played Nadal in the French Open final last year, but was outplayed as the Spaniard won.

Djokovic and Federer have the next chance to claim this achievement before their rivals when they return to Roland Garros in May.

How have they fared against each other?

This is another area where Djokovic's claims are strengthened.

He has a better head-to-head record against both Federer and Nadal in their total meetings.

Pie chart showing Djokovic has won 27 of his 50 meetings with FedererPie chart showing Djokovic has won 29 of his 56 meetings with Nadal

Djokovic's dominance over Federer has also borne out in their Grand Slam meetings.

However, Nadal's win in October's French Open final means the Spaniard has the upper hand over Djokovic at the majors.

Pie chart showing Djokovic has won 11 of his 17 Grand Slam matches against FedererPie chart showing Djokovic has won six of his 16 Grand Slam matches against Nadal

Nadal has also beaten his two biggest rivals the most times on the way to his Grand Slam wins:

Nadal 16Djokovic 13Federer 6

How do they compare in terms of longevity?

Aside from Grand Slam titles, the length of time spent as the world number one is another key indicator.

Federer has spent the most weeks in history at the top of the men's rankings – but will be overtaken by Djokovic next month.

Nadal losing in the Australian Open quarter-finals ensured Djokovic will take that record away from the Swiss.

The Serb cannot be dislodged for the time being and, on 8 March, will be top of the rankings for a 311th week of his career.

That will move him ahead of Federer's 310 weeks, with Pete Sampras (287), Ivan Lendl (270), Jimmy Connors (268) and Nadal (209) trailing behind.

"That was a big goal. Achieving that is a relief for me and now I'm mostly going to focus all my attention on Slams," said Djokovic.

Roger Federer has spent the most weeks as world number one - until 8 March, at least - followed by Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Rafael Nadal.

What about the other big tournaments?

While Grand Slams garner the most attention because of their prestige, there are plenty of other important tournaments that feed into this conversation.

Of the big three, Federer has won the most titles in his career. In fact, only American Jimmy Connors – who won 109 titles – has bettered this tally in the men's game.

Jimmy Connors has won the most men's titles, followed by Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

Federer also leads the way in terms of winning the end-of-season ATP Tour Finals, considered by most as the fifth Grand Slam.

The Swiss has won six of those events, which see a round-robin group followed by a knockout stage for the world's top eight leading players over the season.

Djokovic has won the event five times, while Nadal curiously has never won.

Nadal is a two-time runner-up – losing to Federer in 2010 and Djokovic in 2013 – but has missed four of the past nine tournaments through injury.

Underneath the Grand Slams and the Tour Finals, the next tier of events are the nine Masters tournaments.

Since 2009, these have been held on hard courts in Indian Wells, Miami, Canada (alternating between Montreal and Toronto), Cincinnati, Shanghai and Paris Bercy, with clay-courts events in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome.

Last year because of the coronavirus pandemic the only events held were in Cincinnati, Rome – both won by Djokovic – and the Paris indoors won by Medvedev.

Djokovic won on the Rome clay to claim his 36th Masters title and move clear of Nadal (35), with Federer (27), Andre Agassi (18) and Andy Murray (14) following behind.

In 2018, Djokovic became the first and only man to win all nine Masters tournaments.

Novak Djokovic has won the most men's Masters titles, followed by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Andy Murray

Now you have considered the evidence, who do you think is the men's GOAT? Have your say in the comments section below.

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Comment posted by Progress44, at 17:55 21 FebProgress44

17:55 21 FebThere is no clear cut number one. Federer is perhaps the greatest ever on Grass and Nadal certainly the greatest ever on clay. And Djokovic might well finish with more grand slams than both of them. The point is that they are all tremendous players and will be remembered as 3 of the all time greats regardless of who you think is the GOAT221K

Reply posted by Kate G F, at 18:02 21 FebKate G F

18:02 21 Febto Progress44"There is no clear cut number one. Federer is perhaps the greatest ever on Grass and Nadal certainly the greatest ever on clay. And Djokovic might well finish with more grand slams than both of them. The point is that they are all tremendous players and will be remembered as 3 of the all time greats regardless of who you think is the GOAT"Kate G F replied: Djokovic beat Federer 3 times at Wimby, twice in finals. Federer beat him at Wimby ONCE.

Federer won his 5 Wimbys in 2003-07, before Djoker even came out of teens. Fairly weak period for tennis in those days. He also sneaked in one Wimby in 2017 when Djoker was dealing with injury.1516More replies (3)downO

Comment posted by Oladija, at 17:58 21 FebOladija

17:58 21 FebForgetting that I am a big fan of Novak and considering the top three current form, I would say that Novak still stands the chance of overtaking the remaining two in the race to become the GOAT. His doggedness and never giving up attitude plays a big role. I wish he could add the Olympics to his collection of trophies . Novak is the GOAT!208I

Reply posted by I am the one, today at 00:36I am the one

00:36to Oladija"Forgetting that I am a big fan of Novak and considering the top three current form, I would say that Novak still stands the chance of overtaking the remaining two in the race to become the GOAT. His doggedness and never giving up attitude plays a big role. I wish he could add the Olympics to his collection of trophies . Novak is the GOAT!"I am the one replied: Novak is third best

Fed and Rafa equal GOAT12Z

Comment posted by zoro, at 17:07 21 Febzoro

17:07 21 FebHaving followed all three over their careers, regardless of how many slams they end up with I thought at the time ND dismantling of RN at 2011 wimbledon followed by his win over RN at the 2012 AO as the highest level of tennis I’ve ever seem to date, ND all round game is I think superior, his head to head plus having completed the slam puts him above everyone else.175K

Comment posted by Kate G F, at 17:24 21 FebKate G F

17:24 21 FebDjokovic:

H2H v both Federer and Nadal.
Won most of his slams beating other greats. No Hewitt, ROddick, Gonzalez, Baghdatis, Philippoussis (does anyone even remember this bloke?) etc.
Most weeks at #1 soon
Most Masters 1000 – won each of them at least twice. Others? Yet to win 2 of the 9

6 years at #1 at the end of the year. One more than other two.
100 more weeks at #1 than Nadal188A

Reply posted by ARC1980, at 17:46 21 FebARC1980

17:46 21 Febto Kate G F"Djokovic:H2H v both Federer and Nadal. Won most of his slams beating other greats. No Hewitt, ROddick, Gonzalez, Baghdatis, Philippoussis (does anyone even remember this bloke?) etc.Most weeks at #1 soonMost Masters 1000 – won each of them at least twice. Others? Yet to win 2 of the 96 years at #1 at the end of the year. One more than other two.100 more weeks at #1 than Nadal"ARC1980 replied: Federer was already in slight decline when Djokovic started his proper run. During those years when he beat Federer in the majors, many of the tourneys that were best of 2 sets Federer won those, basically signifying it was a matter of endurance. I’d say in pure SKILL, it is Federer, Djokovic and then Nadal.1413More replies (4)downS

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Comment posted by sarad thapa, at 16:39 21 Febsarad thapa

16:39 21 FebDjokovic is GOAT at the moment. Then Federer and Nadal comes to third. Federer won at least 5-6 Grandslams when there was not big names in early 2000 after retirement of Agassi and Sampras. Djokovic and Nadal won during the most competitive time period. However, Nadal did not win more on different surfaces compared to Djokovic. Djokovic is leading head to head to all leading players.135S

Reply posted by SPQR, at 17:14 21 FebSPQR

17:14 21 Febto sarad thapa"Djokovic is GOAT at the moment. Then Federer and Nadal comes to third. Federer won at least 5-6 Grandslams when there was not big names in early 2000 after retirement of Agassi and Sampras. Djokovic and Nadal won during the most competitive time period. However, Nadal did not win more on different surfaces compared to Djokovic. Djokovic is leading head to head to all leading players."SPQR replied: Totally right. Federer was racking up slams against nobodys through 2003 – 2008 until Nadal, and then Novak, came along. Just look at the chart in the article. Had the situation been reversed, Federer wouldn’t even be in the mix. He would perhaps have won 2-3 majors at best.66More replies (3)downJ

Comment posted by Jock, at 22:11 21 FebJock

22:11 21 FebDjokovic is the GOAT. He has a winning record over the other two, most Masters titles, most weeks at number 1 in the world, and could possibly end up with the most majors, too.

Federer, whilst world class, benefited from winning most of his majors during a comparatively weak era.

Nadal is not as well-rounded as the other two, but still phenomenal. Too dominant on clay.114M

Reply posted by MinardiCosworth, today at 01:05MinardiCosworth

01:05to Jock"Djokovic is the GOAT. He has a winning record over the other two, most Masters titles, most weeks at number 1 in the world, and could possibly end up with the most majors, too. Federer, whilst world class, benefited from winning most of his majors during a comparatively weak era. Nadal is not as well-rounded as the other two, but still phenomenal. Too dominant on clay."MinardiCosworth replied: And is younger. Fed is the GOAT.00More replies (1)downS

Comment posted by sportisbent, at 19:24 21 Febsportisbent

19:24 21 FebAll three are amazing players, and a privilege to see them at the top of their game. As the most mentally tough, and with the better head to head record against all others, the greatest has to be Djokovic.103P

Comment posted by PaulC, at 17:21 21 FebPaulC

17:21 21 FebDjokovic136C

Comment posted by Callum, at 16:21 21 FebCallum

16:21 21 FebDjokovic147P

Comment posted by PaulWolfe, at 23:14 21 FebPaulWolfe

23:14 21 FebFederer has the most artistry.
Nadal’s forehand is groundbreaking, no one can duplicate it.
Djokovic just does everything really well. He has such an entertaining personality and his impersonations of other players are legendary. One of my favorite tennis moments happened when Djokovic was impersonating McEnroe, who left the booth and the two played a point with Djokovic pretending to be McEnroe.60A

Reply posted by AFCDale, at 23:34 21 FebAFCDale

23:34 21 Febto PaulWolfe"Federer has the most artistry.Nadal’s forehand is groundbreaking, no one can duplicate it.Djokovic just does everything really well. He has such an entertaining personality and his impersonations of other players are legendary. One of my favorite tennis moments happened when Djokovic was impersonating McEnroe, who left the booth and the two played a point with Djokovic pretending to be McEnroe."AFCDale replied: Jack Sock could generate similar spin to Nadal with his FH.

It shows you how much modern racket technology can do when Sock has always had poor fitness, defence and BH yet still got to the top 10 + won a Masters event with little but that heavy topspin FH + a good serve.

People massively underestimate or refuse to believe how much of an effect the advancement in strings has on Nadal’s game.10More replies (3)downZ

Comment posted by zoro, at 17:07 21 Febzoro

17:07 21 FebHaving followed all three over their careers, regardless of how many slams they end up with I thought at the time ND dismantling of RN at 2011 wimbledon followed by his win over RN at the 2012 AO as the highest level of tennis I’ve ever seem to date, ND all round game is I think superior, his head to head plus having completed the slam puts him above everyone else.72D

Comment posted by Dave, at 21:57 21 FebDave

21:57 21 FebWhich of them would you tell your grand-children that you saw them play? Federer for me51K

Reply posted by Kate G F, at 23:55 21 FebKate G F

23:55 21 Febto Dave"Which of them would you tell your grand-children that you saw them play? Federer for me"Kate G F replied: What will you tell them? That you saw Federer play – play who? Nadal and Djokovic? Or if you think it is not worth mentioning those two, then you will telh them that you saw Fed beating Baghdatis/Roddick?

I will tell them I saw Djoker beating the great Federer, I saw Rafa beating the great Federer, that I saw Djoker beating the great Nadal more than the great Nadal beating the not so great Djoker04More replies (1)downN

Comment posted by nonethewiser, at 16:38 21 Febnonethewiser

16:38 21 FebSuspect this is just to give you folks something to bite on. Imagine if Borg had played into his middle thirties rather than quitting at 26? His win GS to appearances percentage is better than all 3 and remember he did not play Paris in for a couple of years in late 70s. Discussion is just bogus!73V

Reply posted by Viewer, at 17:13 21 FebViewer

17:13 21 Febto nonethewiser"Suspect this is just to give you folks something to bite on. Imagine if Borg had played into his middle thirties rather than quitting at 26? His win GS to appearances percentage is better than all 3 and remember he did not play Paris in for a couple of years in late 70s. Discussion is just bogus!"Viewer replied: Plus Borg only ever played the Aus Open ONCE in his career!!11More replies (3)downR

Comment posted by RobboTheKitten, at 16:17 21 FebRobboTheKitten

16:17 21 FebSurely Djokovic will ultimately win the most. He is a machine and the competition is weak: most opponents are beaten before they take the court.62S

Reply posted by sleeper, at 22:18 21 Febsleeper

22:18 21 Febto RobboTheKitten"Surely Djokovic will ultimately win the most. He is a machine and the competition is weak: most opponents are beaten before they take the court."sleeper replied: Realy?Djokovic has weak opponents?If that is case he is GOAT because Nadal nad Federer are weak opponents…20More replies (1)downT

Comment posted by Tennis, at 22:38 21 FebTennis

22:38 21 FebInteresting that the author didn’t find it relevant that Novak was the first and only singles player to hold all four major titles at once in the tennis Open Era.30P

Comment posted by Piyush, at 20:51 21 FebPiyush

20:51 21 FebPrivileged to have experienced an era when without a shadow of a doubt 3 of Tennis’ all time greats have gone h2h for 14+ yrs consistently taking upping their game well into their 30s (not too long ago players were deemed past their prime at 30!) taking us all on a journey to cherish for a life time and they aren’t done yet! Can we reserve GOAT judgement till the time all 3 have hung their boots?30O

Comment posted by Observer, at 20:42 21 FebObserver

20:42 21 FebDjokovic also held all 4 Grand Slams at the same time on 3 different surfaces. Before him it happened I think more than 50 years ago.41R

Reply posted by Rob, at 21:39 21 FebRob

21:39 21 Febto Observer"Djokovic also held all 4 Grand Slams at the same time on 3 different surfaces. Before him it happened I think more than 50 years ago."Rob replied: True. Rod Laver in 1969 for his second calendar Grand Slam. He also did it in 1962, and before that, Don Budge got the Grand Slam in 1938 preceded by Wimbledon and Us open in ’37 for 6 in a row.00T

Comment posted by tamwales, at 20:32 21 Febtamwales

20:32 21 FebFED IMHO – lots will disagree but for a man to be at top of his game for so long – plus he has a lovely game to watch. All people entitled to their own opinion on this – & I cannot deny ND, RN & RF all tremendous players. Plus a lot of earlier players – if they had same knowledge etc as they have today – may well have been better than even these 3 – we will never know!52K

Comment posted by Kate G F, at 17:21 21 FebKate G F

17:21 21 FebSo, Federer has a losing H2H v both Nadal (very bad losing H2H) and vs Djokovic.

Not a small sample size. Played nearly 90 matches combined v both.
Has a losing record in slams v both.
Won most of his slams v creampuff competition – Roddick, Baghdatis, Gonzalez, Hewitt, Philippoussis, etc.

Yeah, he was not the best of his time, but he is the best of all time.
That makes a lot of sense.129K

Reply posted by khurram, today at 00:54khurram

00:54to Kate G F"So, Federer has a losing H2H v both Nadal (very bad losing H2H) and vs Djokovic.Not a small sample size. Played nearly 90 matches combined v both. Has a losing record in slams v both. Won most of his slams v creampuff competition – Roddick, Baghdatis, Gonzalez, Hewitt, Philippoussis, etc.Yeah, he was not the best of his time, but he is the best of all time.That makes a lot of sense."khurram replied: And you are a leading expert on tennis? A “weaker period” Tell that to the players who played during the so called weak period.
Djokovic was a joker at the start of his career. Feds head to head was far superior against Djokovic. Now Djokovic has over taken him.
What is your point? Thanks for the nonsensical stats.
Btw they will all achieve more than you ever will in your life.00J

Comment posted by Jon Kinsella, today at 00:41Jon Kinsella

00:41Nadal, for me, is the greatest: multiple GS on three different surfaces; Olympic gold and Career Golden Slam; superior H2H in Slams. I also think his ‘peak’ level at the FO is the highest level of tennis ever played by anyone on any surface.

However, I understand the argument for Djokovic who, one day, will have: the most GS; best overall H2H; most masters titles, and the most weeks at no1.20More commentsBack to topunknown
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