Home History We Will Never Know: A Debater’s Take on the Tennis GOAT Debate

We Will Never Know: A Debater’s Take on the Tennis GOAT Debate

by GP

This take on the tennis GOAT debate is written by our guest contributor Nikola Serafimov. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

What makes a tennis player great or even the greatest of all time? The popular answer is the number of Grand Slam titles won, or perhaps weeks being number 1. Under these metrics, Djokovic has the strongest case, and it is hard to dispute the facts.  

However, what if I told you that we will never be able to know who the real GOAT is? It could be Diego Schwartzman, Gael Monfils, or Novak Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal. We will never know. Why? I believe the things that make a player the GOAT are impossible to measure and compare.

GOAT is not a metric

Let me give you an analogy that would make my case easier to digest. Suppose you’re a great racing driver, Ayrton Senna level, who is impeccable in their craft, and you sit at a level that most people can’t reach. Let’s suppose that you go up in a race against a mediocre driver, someone that has half of your skillset, half of your reaction time and has a comparatively much lower ability to drive. Now, imagine that instead of an F1 car, you are given an old Mini Morris with not that much horsepower, and the mediocre driver is given a new Ferrari. Even though you might be the better driver, you stand no chance because the other driver has a much more suitable car for the racing track. If you lose the race, does that mean that the other driver is better? I don’t think so. 

How does this translate to tennis? Some people are born with body types that give them certain advantages in tennis. These include the right type of metabolism, height, eye-sight quality, brain reaction time, weight, and any other variable that comes to mind. In the same way, some players might get a disadvantage by being born in a way that comparatively puts them in a worse-off position.

Different starting positions

I feel that an 80-year-old player who plays brilliant tennis and understands tennis and strategy inside and out, uses the limited tools he has available as best as he can, could be a better tennis player than a younger person who might be able to beat them. Why? Because, as a player, with the tools that he has available, he extracts the maximum one can under the same conditions. He is playing a chess game but starts with fewer pieces. He might be the better chess player but has a worse starting position. 

One way for us to find out who the real GOAT of tennis is and fairly compare one player to another, is to compare players where all other variables are the same, but one: the player. Everyone would have to have the same body, same conditions of training and playing, same hours on the court. Think of it as a chess game, where both sides have the same number and type of pieces, or a race where all drivers have the same type of car, and we only evaluate and compare their driving skills.

To put this in a science fictional context, imagine we had a machine that gave all players the same body: the body of Novak Djokovic or Alcaraz, or maybe even a random person off the street. The players need to use their minds and strategy to play each other using the same body under the same conditions. Maybe we give them an equal number of lessons, practice matches, and stress levels outside of the world of tennis. Under these conditions, the GOAT of tennis could end up being Andy Murray, even though he might be playing through Novak’s body. Maybe it would be Serena Williams playing through Novak. Maybe even Rod Laver or Jimmy Connors. Maybe an umpire. Maybe a ball-boy or girl. Or perhaps even the person reading this article. It is impossible to determine.

What do you think of Nikola’s take on the tennis goat debate? Let us know in the comments.

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1 comment

Filip March 26, 2024 - 00:47

What if the world was flat or square? What is we had 4 arms and 3 legs? It’s always inspiring to see someone question the reasoning that we take for granted as it’s one of the great insights. From that perspective it’s awesome to see a different take on the goat debate.

However, a major reason we love sports is that we see parts of ourselves or parts we wish we had in other players. We’re all served predetermined tools that give us different predispositions. But it’s the dedication, mental resilience and how we manage to transcend levels and challenges that seem impossible with the tools that we have that make us great. We follow how the players rise after they’ve fallen and how long they’re impenetrable with what opposition, for how long time and during what times. That’s when we perceived a player to carry the fire of the GOAT. I’d argue that more players than i can count on my finger and toes carried carried that fire during the past 50 years or so. It’s hard to deny GS victories and weeks as no1 to be the primary determinant of GOAT. But what if Rafa finished his carrer this year taking both the RG and Olympic crown?


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