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 …


20090214014425Roger Federer


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.”

Source: TennisWeek


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 1Imagine 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:


Le sigh!


BSing is my forte,

xx doots



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17 responses to “For the love of hypotheticals …”

  1. TopSpin says :

    Hi Dootsie –

    Well put. I’m not gonna get drawn into this one. You already know what I think of the whole stinkin’ issue.

    LIke you say the reality of GOAT nuances is like a set of ever decreasing circles of specifics that has no centre.

    Nadal, as great as he is, with his 6 Slams, has no current claim whatsoever – and shouldn’t even feature on any list of tennis livestock contenders.

    If it were up to me – Fed should be crowned GOAT, based on the aesthetic value of his game alone.

    For me the case is very much closed with Paris and Wimbledon

    Though I will say , that you need no excuse to post that image from Madrid. Arguably the best image of 2009.

    • dootsiez says :

      LOL: “the reality of GOAT nuances is like a set of ever decreasing circles of specifics that has no centre.”

      *mind reeling* epic sentence Topspin 😀

      I wish someone would just stick a fork in the GOAT debate and reopen it should Nadal get 10+ plus slams (I’d probably need even more than that depending on how many Federer wins), or at the end of Federer’s career, but if anything, it looks like Federer’s 15th slam has heightened debate over it. You can try not to be drawn into it Topspin, but you know you’re fighting a losing battle. 😛

  2. Mia says :

    The premises, albeit hypothetical, have been laid well, Doots. Good job. I too took the Bodo article with a grain of salt. It looked like Pete Sampras was “ambushed” there. In any case, Bodo is not exactly neutral on this topic. He did, after all, write Sampras’s biography which was released just under a year ago, if my recollection serves me. Now therein lies the rub: how else can you continue to generate enthusiasm for a book on someone who has done 14 when here we already have someone who has reached 15 (and counting)? See, Bodo, karma is a bitch. What goes around always comes around. Sorry for being snarky towards him … not.

    • dootsiez says :

      Thanks Mia, 😀

      I saw the Sampras comments on Tennisweek before I read Bodo’s blog. My only explanation for this endless and pointless debate is that there’s no good tennis on right now, so people are bored and want to theorise over tennis. While I do think the H2H against Nadal needs work, I just don’t believe it’s big enough a deal to outweigh Federer’s career records and his consistency.

      • Mia says :

        The h2h is overrated as a tipping factor for me. Just look at Edberg and Becker. A great majority of people do not think of Edberg as being any less of a player or a legend than Becker. They’re both seen to be on an equal footing, and that even as the h2h stands 10-25 in Becker’s favor.

  3. Trish says :


    Thank you! I’m so sick of the GOAT debate. Love the Madrid pic, such a pretty, pretty, pretty rivalry.

    Yeah, the GOAT debate is meant to be ongoing isn’t? If we resolve it, doesn’t the world come to an end? Such a yawn.

  4. Vishal says :

    Fantastic, well-reasoned post. Thank you!

  5. Hrishikesh says :

    This is a truly fantastic post that lays down every facet of the debate and a way out of it as well !!

  6. girl from michigan says :

    I’m sure all of this GOAT whoohah is worth dwelling over, but you lost me after “mirkabear” and “babybear”.

    I went into Total Cuteness Overload.

    The pics are really cute tho.

    • dootsiez says :

      girl from michigan, if you’re dying now, how are you going to handle it when Babybear arrives with Roger doing diaper duties, talking gibberish and cooing over his kid like a lunatic?

      How will you stop yourself from seizing when Fed goes all giggly and turn into putty?

      You softy! 😀

      • girl from michigan says :

        “How will you stop yourself from seizing when Fed goes all giggly and turn into putty? ”

        When the first pic of DaddyFed holding babyFed hits the internet, I will probably spontaneously combust.

  7. diane says :

    what else is new from the Bodo Badass clown?Alywas has the hots for TMF that everytime he writes in his column, youll find a roger issue one way or another.Move on Bodoass will you?Roger doesnt need you nor your worthless opinion.

  8. LongLiveKingRog says :

    Love your blog and love your analysis! Just don’t get why and how people can ignore the fact that the H2H is largely b/c Roger reaches finals on clay and Rafa doesn’t reach finals on grass/hard until quite recently. Selective memory?

    Btw some more garbage on jacketgate. I am seriously TIRED of these american ‘i am on such moral highground’ journalists. I think i need to stop reading those so not to get myself angry!!

    • dootsiez says :

      Woah Wertheim’s written more? I’ve only read his mailbag.

      LLKR, if it makes you feel better, think back to a couple of months ago, people were writing about Federer in decline, struggling with his game, mono, back, mental problems etc.

      The fact that they’re now writing about his potential to be GOAT, or his wardrobe can only be a good sign! 😀

  9. Blue says :

    Love the hypotheticals. They should just wait till the players finish their careers (as Laver mentioned) before starting the speculations.

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