Almost all of us involved in world tennis one way or another have heaped the title of GOAT (greatest of all time) on Roger Federer. But can that be possible and is it disrespectful to all others who have gone before?

Is it really possible to elevate a player to such a status where he or she is so far above everyone else? It’s almost like making some of the other immortals of the game worthless.

Maybe the idea is to say the greatest of this or that generation, a generation is usually regarded as being a 17 year period, or even the greatest of a decade, or even look at it pre-Open era and post-Open era. Most fans and observers won’t go with that because there is a romanticism with the concept of “ever” or “all time”.

At the Australian Open final, if a back injury had not taken over, Rafa Nadal could have become only the third man ever (Roy Emerson and Rod Laver were the others) to win each of the four majors at least twice. It would have been Nadal’s 14the career major and tied him with Pete Sampras but the way Nadal plays and the results he is generally having surely makes him a candidate as the GOAT.

What happens if he passes Federer’s record of 17 majors, shouldn’t he be the GOAT?

However, adding to the dilemma on whether a player is the GOAT is when a contemporary of that player says it; like Nadal says about Federer, but then he is not going to put himself forward anyway. Nadal didn’t see the players from the past, sure he has played the likes of Federer or Djokovic and felt the weight of their returns but he can judge them only. Sure he has seen the stats of the present players and possibly compared them to players of the past to make his judgment, but in such an instance figures do lie.

Interestingly though when Federer and Nadal were 1 and 2 respectively, Nadal dominated Federer (and still does); never in the history of tennis has a No.2 player dominated No.1 as was the case. What does that mean to GOAT? Plus Nadal has not lost to Federer at one of the majors since 2007.

There is no doubt that Rod “Rocket” Laver is the benchmark for players to be judged against but when he played there was not the number of tournaments and there was no scientific ranking system to accurately show his position as No.1 in the world. Federer and everyone since 1973 has had the luxury of that because that’s when the computer rankings were introduced.

Adding to the complication is the fact that a player such as Laver missed like six years of play because he turned pro and wasn’t allowed to play the majors. He is the only player to win two calendar year Grand Slams. Shouldn’t just that be enough to give him the title of GOAT?

So what really determines the greatest player or players? Is it to do with the number of titles won, or the weeks as world No.1? What about the number of the four majors that have been claimed?

Federer is absolutely the leader in most of these categories but he won’t catch Jimmy Connors who won 105 titles so that could be seen as a negative on him.. He also has the record for the most consecutive semifinals (23) and quarterfinals (36) at the majors and has the record for the most weeks at No1, 302 weeks.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that people were proclaiming Pete Sampras the greatest because he had six Wimbledon titles and set the record for 14 majors and had spent 286 weeks at No.1 and broke the record for the most consecutive years as year-end world No.1. But Sampras doesn’t seem to be remotely considered in any calculation anymore.

If you ask any of the older players, ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s they would categorise the likes of Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad as the greatest. Just remember matches were quicker then, there was no sitting down on the change of end so those players were in incredible condition.

As part of the whole discussion, aspects such as equipment, court surfaces, training, diets must be taken into condition. It is impossible to determine what a player from a past eara would have been like if they knew what players of today know.

So the fact is that Nadal is closing in on Federer and Nadal has a much wider range of titles, besides the four majors he also has the Davis Cup and the Olympic gold medal – Federer does not have that. 

Sampras believes that Nadal will pass Federer’s record so if he does, does that mean he is the GOAT and Federer is then pushed to one side?