Photo: Adriatik Illustration
Gretzky's 1,963 career assists, Wilt's 50.4 PPG in a single season, Leo Messi's 91 goals in a calendar year or Michael Phelps's 8 gold medals at the single Olympics. You name them but they've got themselves a company. As of today, 27th February 2023, Novak Đoković's 378 weeks as the world No.1 tennis player to that list of records almost impossible to break.
I have thought long and through about writing a triology of Novak being the GOAT of tennis, the GOAT of sports. And while he's got some pretty tough competition. for the latter (Jordan, Ali, Messi, Ronaldo etc.), it's more then obvious that he can claim the first one.
Triology will consist of the following:
- On the court (stats)
- On the court (playing style & mental game)
- Off the court (character traits)
Case No.1: On the court (stats)
1) Big Titles
Titles are of course, an athlete's ultimate prize. That's why they train, practice, sacrifice, sweat and bleed for. And while in team sports like football and basketball, titles don't neccesseraly define one's legacy, they're the ultimate prize for those playing individual sports.
When it comes to tennis, Jimmy Connors leads the way with 109, while second on that list is Roger Federer, one of the 'Big Three' and one of the 'official' claimants to the GOAT throne. He's got 103. Đoković and Nadal are 4th and 5th respectively, with Novak having 93 and Rafa 92.
However, tennis has this thing called 'Big Titles'. Maybe it sounds a bit pompous, but it's actually a good indicator of who's the best at the biggest stage. Big titles by definition are: Grand Slams, ATP Finals, ATP Masters and the Olympic games. If you ask me, Davis Cup as the premier national team competition in tennis should be part of it. But hey, I don't make up the rules.
When you use the 'Big Titles' metric, you can clearly see Novak being firmly in that top spot with 66 total, compared to Rafa's 59 in 2nd and Roger's 54 in 3rd.
If we break it down by tournaments, Novak has 22 Grand Slams (tied No.1 all-time with Rafa), 6 ATP Finals (tied No.1 all-time with Roger), 38 Masters (No.1 all-time) and a bronze at the 2008 Olympics. Yeah, the Olympic Games have not been kind to Novak...yet. We'll see you Paris 2024 (laugh).
2) Mr. Clean
We all know of Mr. Clean right? A cleaning agent introduced in 1958. by the American company Procter&Gamble. But how many of you know of Mr. Clean Multi purpose cleaner? Well, to use this very weird analogy (sorry, I'm writing this at 3am), Novak Đoković is the Mr. Clean Multi purpose cleaner. He's the master of all surfaces. And while I do know that both Roger and Rafa have won all four Majors and multiple other Big Titles playing on surface that's not 'theirs', neither of them has done it in a more dominant fashion than Novak.
Novak is the only player in history to complete a Career Golden Masters. Pardon me, Novak is the only player in history to complete a Career Golden Masters TWICE. Novak is also the only out of the Big Three to be in Top3 in W-L% column in all four Majors:
- Djoković - 91,8%
- Agassi - 90,6 %
- Vilas - 88,5%
- Nadal - 97,4%
- Borg - 90,6%
- Djoković - 84,2%
- Borg - 92,7%
- Sampras - 90,0%
- Djoković - 89,6%
- Sampras - 88,8%
- Federed - 86,4%
- Djoković - 86,2%
Novak is also the only player to defeat Nadal twice at 'his' major - French Open (2015 quarterfinals and 2021 semis). Nadal's last victory over Novak on hard courts (majors) came in the 2013 US Open Final. That was also Rafa's last ever victory over Novak on hard courts. The Serb is also the holder of best percentage of his Masters titles coming from playing on a 'weaker' surface:
- Novak Djoković - 11/38 = 28,9%
- Rafael Nadal - 10/36 = 27,7%
- Roger Federer - 6/28 = 21,4%
There's no better way to determine who's better in sports then by pitting one great opponent against another. Because of their almost 20 year-old dominance, the members of our Big Three have faced each other quite regularly. So, without further ado, here's the numbers breakdown:
- Grand Slams (Majors)
- ATP Masters
- Tournament Finals
- Djoković v Nadal = 30-29 (51 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer = 27-23 (54 W-L%)
b) Grand Slams (Majors):
- Djoković v Nadal = 7-11 (39 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer = 11-6 (65 W-L%)
c) ATP Masters:
- Djoković v Nadal = 16-13 (55 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer = 11-9 (55 W-L%)
d) Tournament Finals:
- Djoković v Nadal = 15-14 (54 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer = 14-6 (70 W-L%)
- Djoković v Nadal (clay) = 8-20 (29 W-L%)
- Djoković v Nadal (grass) = 2-2 (50 W-L%)
- Djoković v Nadal (hard) = 20-7 (74 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer (clay) = 4-4 (50 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer (grass) = 3-1 (75 W-L%)
- Djoković v Federer (hard) = 21-18 (54 W-L%)
4) Weeks at No.1
Finally, we came to the reason why I'm writing this article in the first place. As of February 27th, 2023. Novak Djoković is the player with the most weeks as the World Number One in tennis history. Not the most in men's history, most in tennis history. Period. This is for the Billie Jean King's and Ben Rothenberg's the world, who with all due respect, appear to constantly move the goalposts in order to minimize Nole's records and achievements. As someone wrote it one Twitter couple of days ago, it wouldn't surprise me if they start to bring in doubles record or the ones from pre-Open era. It may seem like I'm joking but it wouldn't surprise me, honest to God. And wouldn't you know it, here comes Ben Rothenberg with that exact shithousery.
There's also this.
They've always been doing that. But unfortunetely for them, it matters not. Novak is the all-time leader with 378 weeks, a number that I think is just gonna continue to increase. It's worth pointing out that Nole has finished a year as the World No. 1 seven (7) times in his career and while Roger still holds the record for most consecutive weeks at No.1 with 237, it's clear as day, or that coffee table after the use of Mr. Clean Multi purpose, who's the ultimate No. 1, the ultimate GOAT - Novak freakin' Djoković.
This was a Part One in my three-part Novak Djoković triology called 'Making a case for the GOAT'. See you soon for Part Two.