For the love of hypotheticals …
So … I hate the GOAT debate. Can I say that? I hate it.
I don’t believe it exists. I think it’s a stupid title, and a terrible acronym. I hate the fact that we’re putting it on a player who’s career is not over. Can any player really be the greatest of all time?
But let’s humour all the GOAT debaters for a while …
It’s interesting to see the latest comment by Sampras on the matter, which primarily focused on Federer’s record against Nadal.
While Sampras himself has bestowed the GOAT on Federer, he suggested today Federer must find a way to beat Nadal consistently in order to truly be called the GOAT.
“Tough question to answer. I do understand the argument as being the best ever you have to be the best of your generation and he has come up short against Nadal,” Sampras said. “I can see the point and it’s hard to answer it. It’s not done yet. Roger’s careeer isn’t done yet and he has to beat (Nadal) and he’s got to beat him in the final of majors. In my book he is (the greatest of all time), but he has to figure this kid out. He has to beat him. You’ve gotta be the man of your generation. Roger certainly is the man of his generation, but he’s got to figure out how to beat Nadal.”
Recalling his rivalry with Agassi, Sampras said if Agassi had led their head-to-head series, it would have caused the 14-time Grand Slam champion to question his own status as his generation’s top player.
“It would bother me if I had a losing record against Andre in majors,” Sampras said. “Does it mean I was the greatest or not the greatest? The greatest of all time is (a label) we want to pin it on someone. With the numbers you have to give it to Roger; with (Federer’s) record against Nadal you might not give it to him. If I was 7-13 against Andre it would be hard to say I was the best of my generation. It’s hard to give a definitive answer when he’s not done yet. Roger knows he has to figure out this kid, but it’s a tough match up. Nadal is one of the few guys who believes he is better than him.”
Unfortunately, my gut tells me that Sampras was a bit set up here. The interviewer sounded like he was already looking for a particular answer before the question was asked.
Who cares? If the GOAT debate could be settled, then what would be the fun in it?
I’m quite prepared to accept the idea that to lay a strong claim to being GOAT, Federer needs to work more on that H2H with Nadal. 7-13 is abysmal, considering Sampras was 20-14 against Agassi.
Actually, I like that fact that Federer still has some unresolved H2H issues in tennis. With No 15 and the coupe des mousquetaires in the bag, what’s to stop him from just riding off into the sunset with Mirkabear and Babybear?
While I’m not naive enough to believe that Federer will turn that H2H his way, it does need some work. More specifically we need a few more wins.
On the other hand, I don’t believe the H2H issue is as big as it’s been made out to be. For the sake of fun, let’s delve into Sampras’s comments and toss out a few hypotheticals here:
Hypothetical 1: Imagine an alternative tennis universe where Federer wasn’t even the second best clay courter.
Imagine if Roger Federer had never made a clay court final between 2004-2008. What would’ve been his H2H against Rafa?
If we just took off all the clay court encounters from the current stats, it’s 5-4 Federer. Consider also the possibility that Nadal might not haven’t been in Federer’s head as much if Roger hadn’t lost to him consecutively on clay, it could’ve gone Federer’s way more.
And there lies the irony of the situation: if Federer had been anything short of the second most consistent player on clay, he might’ve avoided this H2H issue altogether. But would he have had a stronger claim to GOAT?
Hypothetical 2: if we were to draw analogies between the Federer/Nadal rivalry and the Sampras/Agassi rivalry, then we must be prepared to consider what Sampras and Agassi’s H2H would’ve been if more than half their matches were played on clay.
I’m biased, since Agassi had endeared me more. But I need no bias to predict this one: Agassi would’ve owned his clay court H2H against Sampras.
Hypothetical 3: following on from #2, consider also what Sampras or Agassi’s H2H would’ve been had Agassi been 5 years younger than Sampras.
Hypothetical 4: Back to Federer and Nadal – what would Fed and Nadal’s H2H be if they had been the same age? While Nadal’s 5 years younger than Federer, I think the “primes” of their careers were about 18-24 months apart. Of course, that’s not taking into account that Nadal is still well in his prime and could go on to have more fabulous years. Federer too could create a second spring for himself, not that 2008 was that much of a ‘winter’. This case is by no means closed.
Hypothetical 5: what would Federer and Nadal’s H2H be if they played equal number of matches on all surfaces?
Hypothetical 6: if we were to argue that Roger Federer cannot be the greatest of all time if he wasn’t the greatest of his time, then who is the greatest of his time?
Nadal? As good as Nadal’s H2H against Federer is, he hasn’t dominated the rest of the field as much as Fed has. Even with Federer supposedly in decline, it’s statistically easier to upset Nadal at a slam than it is to upset Federer.
My point being that Nadal’s H2H against Federer in itself isn’t enough to give him a better claim to being the greatest player of this particular time in tennis over Federer. Whether by statistics or a process of elimination, Federer remains the greatest of his time despite his record against Nadal.
More important than the GOAT debate:
who has the greatest ass of all time?
Consider lastly Federer’s unique situation here:
He was essentially in GOAT territory once he passed 10 slams. First we said he’s got to collect the French Open. As he amassed more slams, we decided he had to equal Sampras’ 14 slams to be considered. This year the guy did both in one go.
Then we decided he had to break it, get to No 15, which he promptly did less than a month later. Now we say he must fix his H2H with Nadal. Should he manage to do that (which I doubt)? We’d probably say “hey, but you’ve never won the Grand Slam like Laver.”
The more successful Federer turns out to be, the more specific the GOAT criteria becomes. Why? Because unlike other debates, the GOAT debate is one we inherently don’t want to settle.
For my money – I hate the concept of GOAT, but Roger Federer is the greatest player I’ve seen. That’s as far as I’m prepared to say at this point.
Should he finish his career with 17 slams or more, I am also quite prepared to toss my “there is no GOAT” defense out the window and make him tennis cattle, assuming Nadal doesn’t overtake Fed in the number of slams. Numbers, though not determinative, are pretty damn irrefutable. 17 is 6 more than Laver and 3 with a French Open more than Sampras, which weakens any remaining arguments against Fed’s GOAT candidacy.
All this verbal diarrhea is just an excuse for me to repost the Madrid pictures again. As compelling as the Federer/Nadal rivalry is, it’s also a ridiculously good looking one. Here’s one last eye candy, my personal fave:
BSing is my forte,