Federer gives his opinion on best ever debate vs Djokovic and Nadal
Roger Federer discusses his retirement in September
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Tennis fans may all have their ultimate favourite out of the three, but picking the all-time greatest player from Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal is no simple task. The trio have dominated men’s tennis for the better part of the last 15 years, even despite the best efforts of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka to intrude on their phenomenal ability to win titles. Now that Federer has finally hung up his tennis racket, the Swiss can look back on his career with pride – even if he has been surpassed in statistical terms.
The 41-year-old has long been regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, breaking records with his 310 accumulative weeks of weeks at world No 1 and 20 Grand Slam titles. Federer’s last triumph at a Grand Slam came at the 2018 Australian Open where he won his sixth title, but a spate of injuries and subsequent surgeries dogged the latter stages of his career, forcing him to miss five Majors in total.
He retired from the game in September 2022 after the Laver Cup with an emotional send-off, and the memory of him playing with Nadal in a doubles final will live on in the minds of millions of tennis fans for years to come.
While he stepped away from the game, Djokovic and Nadal are still going strong as they target adding more titles to their trophy cabinet. Both players now have 22 Grand Slams to their name and Djokovic has been tipped to dominate in the latter stages of his career, with the Serbian already collecting the Australian Open title for a 10th time in January.
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But there is of course an argument that without Federer’s achievements, Djokovic and Nadal may have never been so motivated to continue winning. Federer has had his say on what it was like to be part of the GOAT race with his fellow Big Three members, saying back in September: “I’m definitely very proud, very happy where I sit.”
The Swiss star was the first man to surpass Pete Sampras’ former record of 14 Major singles titles, winning his 15th at Wimbledon in 2009 with the American watching on. “One of my big moments of course was winning my 15th Slam at Wimbledon when Pete was sitting there. Anything after that was a bonus.”
But ask Federer about deciding between the three and he is more diplomatic. Like trying to compare Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in football in their prime, perhaps fans should be more focused on enjoying what is in front of them while it’s still there.
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“People always like to compare. I see it every day with my twins. Without wanting, you compare them. You shouldn’t — ever,” he told the Associated Press. “Naturally, we do the same in tennis… I am my own career, my own player, that needed those challenges. They needed a challenger like myself.
“We made each other better. So at the end of the day, we’ll all shake hands and be like, ‘That was awesome.’ Now is somebody going to be happier than the other? I mean, in moments, maybe.”
Deciding on the GOAT debate is also a tricky balancing act for their peers. Wawrinka, who like Federer represents the Switzerland flag, believes that there is no separating the ‘Big Three’ in their prime: “They broke all the records between him, Rafa and Roger. They took everything and ate everything. These are the greatest players in the history of tennis.”
But not all are willing to stay on the fence. Dominic Thiem was forced to retract his opinion following a fan backlash after initially snubbing Federer in the GOAT race. The Austrian, a one-time Grand Slam winner at the 2020 US Open, said Federer was no longer on an even standing with Djokovic and Nadal after being surpassed in the number of Slams, but later changed his mind.
“All the time there is talk about who is better and who is not well,” he said in February. “I don’t like to say that. It’s disrespectful to each of them. All three have achieved things that no one else will achieve. There is no single GOAT, all three deserve it because they are unique.”
As it stands, Nadal won’t mind being on level terms with Djokovic after an injury-hit run over the past nine months.
The Spaniard has fallen outside of the top 10 for the first time in 18 years, which serves as an incredible reminder of his consistency. But his record on clay means he will be the favourite to land his 14th French Open title, with an absurd 112-3 record on the Parisian court.
Meanwhile, Djokovic could move ahead later in the year, with Wimbledon and the US Open typically tournaments he has been more successful in than Nadal. It may be the final calendar year that these two players compete for that coveted 23rd Grand Slam and if that proves to be the case, there will be plenty of time for GOAT debates when they bow out of tennis.
For now, tennis fans should enjoy the show while it remains in its twilight stage because the end of the Big Three era is fast approaching.
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