Recently here at the coronado tennis centre myself and one of the other pros, have been having a discussion on who we think deserves the title as the greatest mens tennis player of all time. While it is always an interesting but sometimes futile process, we enjoy the occasional tennis banter so we do it anyway.
Before i delve into this debate a little bit further i would like to point out that I believe strongly that both of these guy are absolutely amazing athletes who are at the current time, playing some of the most amazing tennis that has ever been seen. Here are the facts.
HEAD to HEAD
The very first thing, and the most convincing statistics that comes up against Roger Federer is their HEAD to HEAD matchup. He is 10 and 23, lifetime, against Rafael Nadal. That means that Federer has only been able to beat Nadal 30% of the time. Thats domination. Lets break it down…
- 3 times they have met on Grass courts (Federer’s most favored surface) with Federer winning on two occasions. Federer 66%, Nadal 34%
- 15 of those were played on Hard courts (The most neutral surface for both players), where Federer wins 6 times. Nadal 60%, Federer 40%
- 15 of those matches were contested on a Clay court (Nadal’s most favored surface) with Federer winning 2 times. Nadal 87%, Federer 13%
These statistics (www.atpworldtour.com) show conclusively that Rafael Nadal is by far, a better clay court tennis player than Roger Federer. To the tune of an 87% win rate against Federer. Add to that Nadal’s 9 French Open Championships and its easy to see that he is the Greatest Clay court player ever.
But Nadal’s record against Federer isn’t as convincing in the greatest of all time argument, when you factor in that out of their 33 career HEAD to Head match-ups, 15 of them were played on Clay. This contributes greatly to Nadal’s lopsided ownership of Federer. Theres no denying that Nadal has been dominant over Federer, but theres also no denying that a good chunk of their meetings have been held on clay.
THE GRAND SLAMS
Roger Federer currently holds the most grand slam singles titles in the history of tennis (17). With Rafael Nadal claiming (14). These numbers are unbelievable considering the level of competition in the modern professional game and shows how dominant both players have been, but Federer, holding 17 titles gives him a huge advantage in my opinion as 3 grand slam titles can take more than an entire career to achieve. To put just how important the grand slam count is into perspective I will list some memorable former players (names you will recognize) who have been crowned a grand slam singles champion 3 times or less.
- (3 titles) Arthur Ashe ( of whom “Arthur Ashe Stadium” at centre Court of the US Open is named after), Gustavo Kuerten, Jack Kramer, Norman Brookes (of whom the“Norman Brookes Challenge Cup” Australian Open mens singles trophy is named after)
- Its amazing to think that the following players below, despite having extremely successful and memorable careers were unable to achieve even the difference between Federer and Nadal’s grand slam count
- (2 titles) Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marat Safin, Pancho Gonzales, Patrick Rafter, Sergi Bruguera, Ilie Nastase, Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt.
- (1 title) Stanislas Wawrinka, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Michael Chang, Thomas Muster, Tony Roche, Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Stich, Pat Cash, Richard Krajicek, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin Del Potro.
Grand slam singles titles are the big ones, thats for sure. They are the tournaments that everyone is fighting to get into.128 of the best players on the planet playing for the most prize money on the planet, with players regularly having to win qualifying tournaments just to enter. The money is at the top of the game is elite, just like the players. Just for fun, lets compare total career earning between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
At the Present time Roger Federer has amassed a whopping $84,827,704 in on court earnings.
While Rafael Nadal has earned a huge $70,704,129 in prize money.
Thats a massive $14,123,525 extra in a swiss bank account somewhere.
While it can be said that Federer has been playing professional tennis longer, Nadal turned pro only 3 years later in 2001. While these figures are impressive, they strictly reflect the players on court earnings. Meaning anything earned through sponsorships, endorsements, appearance money, exhibitions, ect was not taken into account.
At the present time Roger Federer has an even 80 professional singles titles and Rafael Nadal holds 64. Thats a 16 title swing to Federer. Although it seems that Nadal is right behind him. Winning 16 titles will be much more difficult than it sounds. To put how hard winning an ATP title is in perspective i have named a few notable players who have won less than 16 ATP mens singles titles.
- Juan Carlos-Ferrero (16), Wayne Ferreira (15), Tommy haas (15), Greg Rusedski (15), Marat Safin (15), Magnus Norman (12), Nicolas Almagro (12), Marin Cilic (12), Tommy Robredo (12), Gilles Simon (11), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11), Tim Henman (11), Andrei Medvedev (11), Patrick Rafter (11), David Nalbandian (11), Mark Philippoussis (11), Ivan Ljubicic (10), Robin Soderling (10), Richard Gasquet (10), James Blake (10).
The above list contains some great players and former world #1’s. It exposes just how hard it is to win ATP titles. Just Nadal and Federer have a combined 144. Thats dominance.
Lets not forget that both of these players, though prominently renowned for their singles excellence have also played and won doubles titles. And while you would assume that Federer would have a better doubles record than Nadal, the truth is that their records are both very similar, with the only major difference being that Federer has a gold medal at a doubles Olympic event whereas Nadal has a singles gold medal. Below are the pairs career doubles statistics.
- Nadal: Career Doubles titles 8. Highest ranking No. 26 (8 August 2005)
- Federer: Career titles 8, Highest ranking No. 24 (9 June 2003)
As you can see both players doubles statistics are very close so no winners here.
All professional tennis players have at one point or another dreamt of being the worlds best player. The world #1 ranking is both coveted and elusive. While some players seem unmovable from the top spot, others may only grasp the ranking for a moment.
Roger Federer holds the world record for the highest number weeks as the worlds #1 tennis player. 302 weeks total. He also holds the world record for the longest consecutive number of weeks holding the world #1 ranking. 237 weeks.
Rafael Nadal comes in at 6th on the list of total weeks at world #1. 141 weeks. He also ranks 10th all time in consecutive weeks holding the #1 ranking with 56 weeks.Although both player have been at one time or another the world #1 tennis player. Roger Federer has been convincingly more consistent holding the top ranking. For people who contest that the quality of opponents Nadal has had to face in his career are superior I would agree and disagree. Both Federer and Nadal have had to face similar foe as their careers have overlapped for the majority (Federer turned pro in 1998, Nadal in 2001).
Both Nadal and Federer have been fantastic representatives and ambassadors for their respective countries both on and off the court. But who represents their country the best, in the way that matters the most… Winning matches. Below are the Davis Cup records for both Federer and Nadal. In the spirit of comparing these players head to head we wont factor in the fact that Nadal has won it all with Spain 4 times.
Nadal: Singles 21-1. Doubles 3-4
Federer: Singles 35-7. Doubles 11-9
Going by the statistics (www.daviscup.com) we can see that Nadal has won 95% of his singles matches and 43% of his doubles matches. Federer has won 83% of his singles matches and 55% of his doubles matches. The fact that of Nadal’s 21 Davis Cup singles wins, 17 of them have been on clay reinforces what the tennis world already knows, that he is the greatest clay court player of all time. But the numbers tell us Federer is the better Davis Cup performer.
In my opinion, and going on the facts I have covered above, Roger Federer is currently the greatest tennis player of all time. I am confident that no one would argue that Nadal is the greatest clay courter of all time but the numbers favor Federer in the GOAT argument.
There is still plenty of time left in their respective careers to stack another slam or 3, but as Federer’s career seems to be winding down and Nadal is currently struggling with injuries, the titles will be harder to come by. There is only one thing for certain. That you can never count a champion out, especially two of the greatest to ever play the game. Its rare that athletes of this calibre appear once in a lifetime, let alone twice in the same sport.
USPTA Elite Professional