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Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time (Part 2)

Posted by Pat on 5th October 2012
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Due to its complexity this topic har has been divided into five parts – Enjoy!

In Part 1 of the Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time I talked about the complexity of this G.O.A.T topic. I explained why it’s difficult to determine who is G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) and I touched on some of the things we need to consider in order to make such a big call. Today I will be digging a little deeper:)

Head To Head

Perhaps you would need to remain undefeated to be the greatest of anything? Not many athletes have that record, especially not in such an international sport such as tennis.

Edwin Moses, American 4 x 400m hurdler, won gold medals in the 400m hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics. Moses also won 107 consecutive finals between 1977 and 1987!

I heard that Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser was never defeated in a swimming event. I’m not 100% sure that is true but it’s pretty close. Fraser is one of only three to have won the same Olympic event three times.

To me the above is very impressive since I swim like a stone and love training athletics.

Well it’s clear that to be the G.O.A.T a player must be dominant in his era therefore a winning head to head against other players is a must. However, even this can be misleading. As a player becomes older he/she is in decline as he/she crosses into the next generation of players of younger players. Therefore his/her record will deteriorate.

Bjorn Borg is an exception in that he quit at or near the top of his game. Also, Pancho Gonzales, Ken Rosewall and Jimmy Connors were all winning titles late into their 30’s and even 40’s (Federer may well do the same).

Are “Head to Head” Statistics Reliable?

It’s hard to get head to head statistics on players that are not on the on the ATP circuit. Just go ahead and check www.atpworldtour.com.

You see, In my era there were two separate circuits – the MIPTC (later changed to ATP) and the WCT (World Championship Tennis) a rival group in the US. The tournaments from these circuits were regarded by players to be some of the best but are not always included in player statistics.

What about the Pro and Amateur stats? The “Pro Slam” events of the 50’s and 60’s were regarded as the highest of all quality but are rarely included in the statistics I have found.

What I’m trying to say is that statistics are not reliable enough to conclusively determine who is the greatest tennis player of all time. At least not until statistics from all eras are included. These statistical “loopholes” for lack of a better word, are little known and often ignored by sport commentators. Keep this in mind next time someone is quoting statistics to determine the G.O.A.T.

Winning Percentage

I have explained why tennis statistics are not reliable enough on their own to determine G.O.A.T. However, statistics are a great tool and and should always be a part of the discussion. Below are the winning percentage stats according to Wikipedia.

So is having the best winning percentage the key to becoming the G.O.A.T? I would say no. A good winning percentage is definitely important but I don’t believe it alone can determine who is the greatest tennis player of all time.

Winning Streak

What about having the ultimate winning streak then? Winning streaks may show us one player at his ultimate peak. Perhaps he is truly unbeatable and the G.O.A.T if just for that streak!

McEnroe, Federer and Djokovic have all had great streaks but none better than Borg who’s winning streak remains the greatest of all time with 49. An honorable mention goes to Guillermo Vilas whos winning streak was stopped at 46 by Illie Nastase who played with a double strung racquet which, was quickly banned. After this one loss Vilas won another 28 straight matches. In 1977 Vilas won 72 of his last 73 ATP matches!

Conclusion

So as you can see statistics can not only be misleading and conflicting, they can also be inconclusive. Borg has the best winning streak but Nadal has the best winning percentage…Both of these statistics are phenomenal, but which is greater? Furthermore, how can you pick the best player based on these numbers alone? We haven’t even begun to discuss surfaces, equipment, titles won, and many other things that play a big role. I will cover this in parts 3 and 4 of this blog series.


Thank you for reading part 2 this blog series. You can read Part 3 here: Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time – Part 3. Subscribe (on the right) or follow me on Twitter, or Facebook to get all my articles sent straight to you.