Halftime Sports

The Case for Djokovic over Nadal

October 30, 2015


Zimbio

During the 2011 ATP season, Novak Djokovic amassed an incredible 70-6 record. His 41-match winning streak was world news, unfathomable considering the talented opposition of his era. His historic conquests of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, a combined ten times in the span of one calendar year, turned heads all over the world.

In all honesty, I was getting tired of Novak’s unrivaled dominance. Going into the 2012 Australian Open, I was desperately hoping that Rafa would avenge his losses to Djokovic in the 2011 Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. When would the man notorious for his impersonations and extraneous ball-bouncing finally become human again?

The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is never. Over the past four years, we have watched a legend grow before our eyes. It’s true that defense wins championships—Nadal’s 14 major victories are a testament to the importance of defensive prowess. However, the world has never seen anything like Djokovic’s return game, or his laser backhand that so effortlessly stretches his opponents across the court. It has also never seen Djokovic’s conditioning routine, perhaps best encapsulated by the “gluten-free cereal,” the “color therapy,” or the “natural fruit bars” consumed during matches.

The 2012 Australian Open final, contested under muggy conditions and a brief rain spell in the fourth set, was a brilliant war of shot-making between the world’s best players. It was a match filled with aggressive offense and impeccable defense; a war of attrition between the competitors chasing Federer’s legacy in the legend’s declining years. When the trophy was presented to Djokovic in the early morning hours of January 30, 2012, the tables had officially turned…the era of Djokovic was here to stay.

To his credit, Nadal has earned four grand slam titles in the aftermath of that 2012 Australian Open final. Djokovic can only lay claim to five major titles during that span; an unimpressive statistic for the position I will defend later in this article. This fact begs an interesting question: why does the Djoker deserve recognition as the undisputed alpha-dog of men’s tennis?

The answer to this question is not quantitative; in fact, one can’t look at Djokovic’s statistics and arrive at a conclusion. Instead, one must look at the overarching theme of this article: identity. Nadal has maintained the same identity throughout his career, filled with scrappy defensive play, risky cross-court slides, and meticulous pre-serve routines. And for Spain’s greatest tennis product, this identity has crafted one of the best players of all time. However, this identity was only made to last during the honeymoon phase of Rafa’s career—before injuries halted a seemingly unstoppable warrior. Djokovic, on the other hand, is so formidable because his identity has evolved over the course of his career. Gone are the days of the “spindly baseliner” who “requested to see the trainer more than any other player on tour.” In Djokovic’s game, we can see the influence of a newly-ingrained work ethic that takes heart-wrenching losses and converts them into “motivation for the months ahead.”

Let’s imagine an alternate universe for a moment, in which Nadal never experienced the succession of injuries that slowed his progress towards Federer’s 17 grand slams. If I then had to choose between a healthy Nadal and a healthy Djokovic, in terms of who would win more majors in 2016 and beyond, then I would ultimately select the latter.

I did not arrive at this declaration without considerable thought and reflection. I understand the objections to my position: Nadal’s unprecedented supremacy at Roland Garros, his powerful topspin forehand, and his movement around the court all constitute formidable forces. On top of that, he’s a competitor who learned to play within himself, accepting his strange quirks and figuring out how to win despite a perpetually-injured body. However, Nadal’s career is defined by the inability to think outside this box—by an inability to adapt to change. As Djokovic has demonstrated, our greatest successes can be derived from looking at ourselves, seeing what needs to be changed, and taking action. It might take a doctor “practicing alternative theories of medicine” to instigate introspection, but in today’s competitive, individualistic society, one must appreciate change for what it is: a dynamic, soul-improving force.

At the pinnacle of every sport, very little differentiates top-ranked athletes from one another. Many point to will and determination as the most important sources of divergence; others may off-handedly remark, “He was just the better player today.” However, there is no such thing as the better player “today.” We are the sum of our training, and if one takes anything away from this assertion, it should be that the parts of the whole can always be changed. Djokovic is the world’s best tennis player because he searches for new roads, instead of taking the beaten path and trying to make something magically appear out of it.



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Comments 28

  • Djokovic is a great player no question & his level is very high at this time. I agree that he is the undisputed world number one & the player most likely to win the most slams in 2016. Despite this Djoker’s wins over the last 15 months have come off the back off an aging though still dangerous Roger Federer & a fading Rafa Nadal. Nadal won four slam matches in a row against Djoker between the Australian Open final of 2012 & the French Open Final of 2014. Rafa has not been the same player since due to injury, age & an appendectomy. Rafa might win another slam or two but Djoker has now raised his level to such an extent that Rafa is unlikely to be able to pip him as he once could. Rafa has won 9 slam matches to 4 & 14 slams to 10. Rafa also has a career slam. Even if Nole pips Rafa overall, when they were at their respective peaks Rafa was a match for him & had the edge in slam matches. Djoker is clearly the better hard-court player bu Rafa was decisively the better clay-court player until this year. Rafa’s decline is more responsible than any other factor for Djoker’s dominance. To be fair to the Djoker his game is exceptional at this time but until he wins the French & beats Rafa’s 14 slam tally I won’t rate him above Rafa. Frankly the way it is looking Rafa will be seen as the greatest clay court player of all time & Djoker the greatest hard-court player, As to who the greater all court player is Djoker must win the French & surpass Rafa’s slam tally to get there.

    • What a lot of people are forgetting to say when they claim Djokovic’s wins have come during the decline of Nadal and Federer is that Djokovic has evolved and become a far better player then he was even a couple of years ago. So, even if Nadal and Federer were at the the same level as they were a couple of years ago, Djokovic has improved immensely and would still be a force to be reckoned with. So, please enough of this decline of Roger and Nadal and consider how much Djokovic has become a stronger player based on the development of his skills and fitness. I also remember that leading up to the US Open there were so many comments being made about how Roger was playing some of his best tennis but that was all swept under the carpet after the loss to Djokovic. Give Novak credit for the amazing work ethic and skill set he has developed to get to where he is now and dominate his 2 greatest rivals.

      • Gordie, I agree that Djoker’s level is greater than it’s ever been but I disagree with the notion that Rafa & Roger couldn’t raise their games to match the Djoker when they were at their respective peaks. Nole raised his game in 2011 & had the wood on Rafa Nadal that year winning 6 matches in a row including 2 grand slam finals & 4 Masters 1000 finals, including two on clay. Then the Djoker won that epic 5 set match in the Australian Open Final in 2012 against Rafa to make it 7 in a row. Rafa, however, found his way back to the level he needed to win 6 out of their next 7 matches & the next 4 slam matches they both played including 2 French Open Finals & the 2013 US Open Final. Rafa also won that epic semi-final at Roland Garros in 2013 that Borg rated the greatest clay court match he had ever seen.

        Ivan Lendl made the point that great champions find a way to raise their game to match it with great rivals & that is what Nadal was able to do with the Djoker between 2012 & 2014 but injury, appendicitis & now age & the wear & tear in Rafa’s game make it very hard for him to raise his level sufficiently to beat the Djoker again. Rafa may be able to do it at Roland Garros one more time, or perhaps twice at the most but let’s not pretend that Djoker’s dominance isn’t at least partly due to Rafa’s decline. As for Roger Federer he was able to beat the Djoker in 2011 at the French Open & at Wimbledon in 2012 when he was 29 & 30 years old. Roger is now 34 & as high as his level has been in 2014/2015 he hasn’t been able to beat either Nole or Rafa in a slam match. In fact Roger hasn’t beaten Rafa since 2012 at Indian Wells & in a slam match since Wimbledon 2007. Lendl also made the point that players eventually get old & that is what has happened to Roger Federer who simply can’t match Djoker’s intensity & his fitness isn’t sufficient at 34 to beat Nole in a best of 5 sets encounter. As for Rafa he might find the level he needs once or twice more but we need to remember that even Roger Federer & Pete Sampras only managed to win one slam after they turned 29. Roger might still win one more but with two younger great rivals the odds are now firmly against him.

        Djoker may prove the exception & win 4/5 slams more before age finally starts to catch up with him. There simply isn’t anybody who is good enough to beat him from generation next on a regular basis. Maybe Kei Nishikori can do it or in the longer run players like Dimitrov, Kyrgios, Kokkanakis, Sock or Coric. I think that 2017 will be the earliest that one of these players may finally emerge & threaten the Big three. That leaves the grizzled veterans like Andy Murray & Stan Wawrinka to challenge the Djoker, or Jo Wilfrid Tsonga. Murray may find the level he needs one more time but I am not going to hold my breath & Stan can be great on his day but he will be 31 & just can’t do it consistently. As for Jo he is aging as well & his backhand is too inconsistent & weak to threaten the Djoker. None of this is the Djoker’s fault & good on him for raising his game to now dominate. He had it tough for years so he deserves his slam success now but he must win many more slams (at least 5) to be rated above Rafa Nadal.

  • So what do you say about “Djokovic over Federer” based on the same parameters?

  • nonsense nadal has adapted superbly as well

  • Djo will decline soon- natural law.

    • and that’s true too – it’s inevitable….

  • I see lot of people trying to diminish djoker’s achievements by using Rafa and Fed’s decline but completely forget that Djoker defeated Prime Rafa in 2011 constantly. Another thing that’s often forgetten is how djoker evolved and improved his game. Recently in Shanghai and Beijing I see that he is serving and volleying or coming to net more often.

    Nadal is greatest Clay courter and one of all time greats but his relentless grinding is the reason he won many and the reason he is injured so often.

    Even if djoker some how magically wins 15 GS, people will still complain Rafa injuries or Fed’s age. As if tennis is only played between three players.

  • Then are so manu if those who can not stomach the fact THat djokovic is the onlly complete sportsman in tennis, evolving, impoving , constantly perfecting his game. thatd why his dominating in the era of great competitors. Djoker can play superbly on any surface , where Rafa can or could only dominate on clay, Rafa is no longer injured, what are you people talking about, what injury ?? Since when having appendix removed became an eternal injury , what a lot of bull! It’s clear that Rafa has never been a creativ player, true he can’t think outside of box, not sure about his conditioning training either, his out of paf after only first set. At AO this year he nearly vomited on the court after he was moved around the court a lot, by a LOWER ranked player. Have a look at who were Federer’s in his prime time, till Rafa came along Federer had weak players around him, and greatest ones went to retirement . Please, do spent a little time doing a bit of resurge and you’ll when Djokovic was 19 20 years old, he was beating Federer and Nadal.

    • @Macky: Djokovic is the top men’s player currently and for the year 2015. It’s reflected in his ranking and performance this year. He does not get enough credit for it, agreed. HOWEVER, he is not the ONLY complete sportsman. Nadal, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka etc all of them retooled their games to win Slams and be competitive for a long time, especially the first 3. Rafa could only dominate on Clay? LOL. Weird how he has COMPLETED THE CAREER GRAND SLAM & HAS MULTIPLE SLAMS ON EVERY SURFACE but Djokovic has NEITHER won multiple slams on every surface NOR has won the French Open to complete the Grand Slam. This year, Nadal has dropped but that’s NOT down to injuries so I agree with you. In any athlete’s career, there are ups and downs, so he is due a poor year just like Federer in 2013. Nadal can’t think outside the box. ROFL. When did you start watching tennis? 2015? Go through my post mentioned on this forum on how Nadal adapted his game to win and the subtle changes he makes throughout his career. Not only that, he constantly talks about wanting to improve his game, which is why he came up with a rocket serve at the US Open 2010 with a change of grip etc. So Nadal nearly vomited on court and his conditioning is suspect? That was 1 match, he was suffering from a stomach ailment which is why he was given pills during the match. Speaking of conditioning, have you HEARD OF DJOKOVIC BEFORE 2011? His Conditioning WAS ALL OVER THE PLACE and not just for 1 match. Also, Djokovic vomited on court against Nadal at the French Open Final in 2014? So does that make his conditioning also suspect? Djokovic was beating Federer and Nadal when he was 19-20 years old. Okay, good he was beating established players. What do you think a 19 YEAR OLD Federer was doing when he beat Sampras in 2001 at Wimbledon. What do you think a 17 YEAR OLD Nadal was doing when he beat Federer for the first time. Also, do you know who the last teenage Grand Slam Winner was? HERE’S A HINT: His name is NOT Novak Djokovic. Based on your tennis knowledge, I don’t know if you can find the answer so here it is: IT WAS RAFAEL NADAL in 2005 at the French Open.

      • To be fair, Djokovic was twenty when he won his first Slam. He was barely out of his teens. The fact that he only bloomed into his peak so much later and has achieved so much only adds to his credibility as a GOAT

        • @Andrew: Yes, right you are. I never disputed that. Just pointing out to Macky that his observations have been conveniently restricted to Djokovic or he is generally a bit clueless about tennis facts.

          For me, there is no such thing as GOAT. It’s too difficult to compare eras and the changes that occur in the game. I care more about a tennis player building a legacy and Djokovic is certainly doing that. Though his legacy will be further strengthened if he wins the French Open + Olympic gold, more so the former.

  • Djokovic iz executioner and you ain’t seen nothing yet!

  • What a load of rubbish – Djokovic is playing better than anyone else at the moment, but it is also fair to say that he has noone who really poses much of a threat – Djokovic is a real inbetweener – he cleans up the table when there is nonone to threaten him – how many easier wins has he had in his career for the fact that Rafa was injured for so much of the last 3 years, and even so he has not been able to clinch every title (the Olympics, Wimbledon & US Open and most shocking of all the last French Open – any self respecting true champion & No. 1 of the moment should & would have won that!!). All the younger players treat him with awe and don’t really push him or threaten him in away that he should be – he is far from unbeatable – it just looks that way because they don’t challenge him properly – he is also such a late bloomer in his career that he has benefitted from the slump in his chief rivals – and I would not be so sure about 2016 – if Rafa starts perking up, watch this space! And that’s the way it always is & was, when Rafa is ready & wants it, he always gets it – Djokovic doesn’t, i.e. his loss at the French (shocking!) – and that, my friends, is the mark of a true champion, and it is also why Rafa will go down as one of the all time greats – he does the ‘impossible’, while Djokovic only ever does the ‘predictable’!!

  • Djokovic is the hardest-working man on tour, and that is why he is number 1. Plain and simple. He’s not a magician or an acrobat or a one-trick pony. He is the leanest, fittest, and most skilled of the lot. Saying that he’s dominating because of Roger and Rafa’s decline is like saying that Roger dominated thanks to Peye and Andre’s decline. Nobody ever said that. Talking about Rafa’s age is equally ridiculous, since he is barely one year older than Novak. Novak Djokovic earned his status with a meticulous all-encompassing ever-evolving program that aims for continuous improvement. It is a mystery to my why people fail to recognize this and give respect where it is due.

    • Djokovic is 28 years old has 10 grand slam titles & less atp tiltes than Roger & Rafa + his head to head has not yet exceeded either of the other 2……so I really don’t know how this rediculous discussion started in the first place…..and of course Djokovic has benefitted from Rafa’s long absences – there’s absolutely question about it – when you don’t have to compete against your chief rival for more than 6 months of each year, you have a major advantage – it’s hardly rocket science. And as mentioned before, even during his arch rival’s absences he couldn’t clinch some major titles……Olympics, Wimbledon, US Open, French Open – he’s not in the same league as a champion!

      • When your “chief rival” is missing for 5 months of the year, he isn’t much of a rival, is he now? So you reach the same conclusion as the author of this article does, which is that Djokovic is the more dominant tennis player on the ATP tour. It is so utterly juvenile to say – as so many people do – that Djokovic would not be this impressive if only Federer would stop making unforced errors, or if only Nadal had a different, fitter body. That’s like saying that I would be the greatest player ever if I served an ace every time I served, or if I had the acumen of Federer or Nadal or Djokovic. A tennis player is the sum total of his professional conduct, and by that reckoning, Djokovic is not only the best now, but arguably the best ever. If Nadal is often injured, it is due largely to the manner in which he exerts himself during tennis matches. That manner of exertion is also the way he won his 14 Grand Slam titles. Every human being takes the good with the bad, and it is idle to say that in some fantasy universe where you can mix and match causes with consequences, your favorite player would totally kick ass. I’m not asking that anyone should like Djokovic, or cheer for him, or even care that he plays tennis – but it would be really nice if people would just please stop fooling themselves about the reasons for his preeminence in the sport today.

        • Hm, I think this article says more about the entrenched thinking of the writer & the likes of yourself than anything else – your reasoning is for want of a better word copletely ‘absurd’?!

          So Rafa is one year older than Djokovic, however has 4 grandslam titles more, as well as every other record & more other titles in general, had won all these titles before Djokovic was even a houshold name, was a top player from the moment he burst on the scene as a teenager, has therefore been competitive for many, many more years than Djokovic, who has only really entered the conversation since 2011 ( having therefore achieved so much more than Djokovic his body has taken a greater beating….need one spell it out even further….and you might call his current condition an emotional & physical slump after a full-on 11 year career…), and yet your reasoning somehow tells you that Djokovic is the greater tennis player??!! At the very most you might say that the future will be interesting, and that Djokovic has a great chance to charge ahead and win many titles, if neither Federer, but mainly Rafa, manage to find their top gear again – and so which ever way you want to twist this story to satisfy your own emotional needs, the fact remains that Djokovic has had lucky timing with his career, as he is playing ‘perhaps’ his best tennis when the only other 2 real contenders have burnt themselves out with consistent top-notch performances during their long peak years – Djokovic was NOT in the same league during this entire time, even though he was there!! I know you are trying hard to ignore this fact! So whether he is even playing the best tennis ever is aslo questionable, perhaps he just doesn’t have such sharp opponents anymore?! Even so, Rafa beat him at the French, so did Wawrinka – he did NOT win the Olympics, he lost the US Open 2 years in a row, despite being the number one etc, etc – like I said before, a stand out champion seizes the moment.
          And as I said before as well, Rafa does the ‘impossible’ (as he may well do again in 2016!), while Djokovic always does the ‘predictable’. But I suppose that’s what chaps like you & the writer find comforting……; )

  • This talk of Djokovic reinventing himself better than Nadal has is plain nonsense. If Novak successfully reinvented himself he would have won the French Open and won a career grand slam and all surfaces. Nadal had double digits total, career grand slam and multiples of all three surfaces. If Djokovic is to be above Nadal he needs two French Opens and Olympic gold. He is not likely to do either.

  • WOW. RIDICULOUS ARTICLE! Seriously Noah? After that error riddled article a few days back, another piece that lacks a coherent understanding of tennis. So where do I begin?

    1. You talk about Nadal’s defensive prowess but you’ve totally ignored his attacking strength built around his forehand. There’s a reason many people (barring this 2015 season) called the Nadal forehand the most devastating forehand in the game. Prime examples of that would be the 2013 French Open semi vs Djokovic or the 2014 French Open Final. Both times, on the clay, Nadal had MORE WINNERS than Djokovic. He also had MORE WINNERS than unforced errors.

    2. Djokovic is the CURRENT alpha-dog of the ATP tour not OVERALL. Firstly, there is no GOAT because you cannot different eras and the changes that come with it. Moreover, while Djokovic has fantastic achievements, his legacy at the moment is not greater than Nadal’s. He has NOT completed the Career Grand Slam, does not have Olympic Gold and trails in the Slam Count, ATP Masters 1000 title count and in the Slam H2H (though overall H2H is closing). To his credit, Djokovic has a better record in the Weeks at No.1 statistic and has won the World Tour Finals but his overall legacy is NOT GREATER THAN NADAL’s.

    3. Now for the MOST ABSURD POINT! “Nadal’s inability to adapt to change”. EG 1: The US Open in 2010 when Nadal changed his grip for serving to suddenly unleash a serve with power and precision. He did the same for US Open 2013. EG 2: Based on his injuries in 2012, Nadal changed his backhand stance at the point he hits the ball.
    EG 3: After losing to Djokovic 6 straight times in 2011, he decided I need more power which will also come in handy for serving. So, Nadal added a couple of grams weight to his racquet. EG 4: While he has not won the World Tour Finals, he has reached 2 finals. How? He realized, I need to flatten out more shots for the Indoor Season. EG 5: Long Touted as a Clay Court Specialist, Nadal re-tooled things like I mentioned earlier plus improved his volleying skills as well to COMPLETE THE CAREER GRAND SLAM and not just that, WIN MULTIPLE SLAMS ON EVERY SURFACE. How do you think that was possible for a so called clay court specialist without need for adaptation?

    • It has been known that people from certain corner of the world are highly irritated by djokovic’s superb achievements, and lucky is one of them. Lucky, you are so stressed out by the fact that Djokovic has such an unbelievable sussesfull carrier. Man, with your writing you are making yourself a lounging stock. Can you please stipulate nadal’s injuries, what are they? Djokovic, before taking up strict diet regiment for his health purposes, was a saviar cilliac, few of you would have known, he had to have 3 nasal surgeries throughout his life, to correct his breathing difficulties, because he was born with bad sinus defect. So compare these health conditions with a little appendix that was promptly removed, the outcome is simple, Djokovic comes out as champion again. Nadal’s biggest injury is his lose of interest in tennis, he can’t or doesn’t know how to improve, stack in his own old ways, doesnt evolve, nor is he willing to take any new advice on board. Well, you can’t just win the game by running around court like a Spanish bull till you are drenched in sweet. Nadal seems to be OK with where he is now, so be it, or he can try and start working on improving his game. Infuct, he said it himself, I achieved a lot , I have amazing carrier, which basically means I’m happy just cruising here, why the fuss. With Djokovic is completely opposite, this guy plays with intelligents , years of of learning, analysing and understanding of the game, plus physical training. He gets ready for every opponent. And Djoker never liked to lose, not even as a kid, therefore he is willing to put in all the hard work to get to where he wants to be. That’s what all complete sports men and women do, dedicate they life to sport they are passionate about…… And yeah, you haven’t seen anything yet, what Djokovic is about to achieve yet!

      • and i suppose you did not realise that Rafa had a congenital defect in the bone of one of his feet?? Diagnosed early in his career, and almost forcing him to stop his career – he has been playing with specially constructed shoes ever since. And I suppose the imballance of his feet will have had it’s added effect on the decline of his knees…..this whole debate is too ridiculous!

        • @Pop: Exactly but ignorant people like Macky cannot see the world beyond Djokovic. Djokovic has to be lauded for his achievements especially this year but that does not mean one forgets other tennis greats or tennis history.

      • @Macky: Man, are you that ignorant that you cannot copy paste my sign in name of Legacy (not Lucky) from above or are you actually that foolish? I am not stressed about Djokovic because I admire the guy and value his accomplishments. He is very nice in person as well. I have a problem with ignorant people like you who forget other players or tennis history. Moreover, your argument is centered on emotion and not facts so most of it is not even valid.

        Your head is so cluttered by an obsession with Djokovic that you have forgotten the issues other players go through. EXAMPLE 1: Andy Murray was born with a bipartite patella, where the kneecap remains as two separate bones instead of fusing together in early childhood. EXAMPLE 2: Rafael Nadal was born with a congenital defect in his tarsal scaphoid (foot). He was told his career was OVER by various doctors but some told him that if he wore drastically modified shoes, the pressure could be diverted away from the bone in the foot. The extra stress would have to be absorbed by his back and knees (http://espn.go.com/tennis/usopen11/story/_/id/6896793/us-open-twenty-things-learn-rafael-nadal-autobiography). EXAMPLE 3: Alex Dolgopolov suffers from Gilbert’s Syndrome which affects fatigue especially during long travels.

        So like I said earlier, you’re so blinded by your love for Djokovic, that you ignore other problems or situations other players deal with.

        Go and do some research or do you want to continue MAKING A JOKE OUT OF YOURSELF MACKY?

        • @legacy, there’s a point in calling you lucky….. Got something to do with um getting the real picture through to you.., some people aint capable of getting it, indeed lucky aren’t you.

  • You may or may not agree with the author of this article, but there are two things about Djokovic that are indisputable:
    1) whatever the rest of his career turns out to be, he’ll go down in history as one of the best players of all time
    2) the degree of dislike for him is unprecedented in the recent history of tennis and personally I don’t understand why?

    • @Max: Yes, I don’t agree with many of the points mentioned by the author in this article.

      That being said, Djokovic is definitely among the top players. His accomplishments are exceptional. I do feel he will break or equal Federer’s record of 9 Hard Court Slam victories and I definitely see him breaking or equalling Emerson’s record of 6 Aus Open Titles. The big question is, can he finally pass that French Open hoodoo because that will really enhance his already burgeoning legacy.

      Regarding the hate he gets, it fills me with disgust too. The crowd support for Federer in the US Open Final this year was disgusting to say the least. They were cheering failed Djokovic 1st serves! I guess people have become so enamoured by Federer & Nadal over the years that they are refusing to accept Djokovic as the current top dog.

  • If we are discussing the greatest player of the last 15 years, it boils down to 3 players : Novak, Roger and Rafa. Lets first discuss their career so far :

    1) Roger : Plus points :Has won more slams than anyone else. Has been the most consistent of all 3 so far and so he has been ranked number 1 for most weeks.He has ended no.1 for 5 calendar years. Has reached more grand slam finals (27) than anyone else. Has reached all 4 finals in a calendar year 2 times. Out of the 4 slams, he has won 3 of them atleast 4 times. Thats truly consistent.

    Minus points: Does not have a winning record against neither of the 2 chief rivals despite playing against them numerous times on different surfaces.

    2) Rafa : Plus points: Has won 14 slams.Has a dominant record against Roger (something like 23-10) and a narrow winning record against Novak (something like 23-22).Has won more atp masters tour titles than anyone else. Has reached 20 grand slam finals. Has won an olympic gold in singles.

    Minus points : Has never won the year ending ATP tour Finale. Out of his 14 slams, 9 have come on clay. This shows that he never been consistently great across all 4 slams. He has not won wimbledon since 2010 nor reached the final since 2011.

    3) Novak : Plus points :Since 2008 he has a winning record against both roger (20-16) and rafa (20-17). Has been year end no.1 for 4 years. Has reached the highest rating in the history of atp rankings (over 16000 points). Out of 4 slams he Has won 3 slams atleast 2 times. Has reached 18 grandslam finals. Has won 2nd most no. atp masters in the history of tennis and also won 4 year ending atp finales.

    Has two of the best seasons in tennis history( 2011 & 2015)

    Minus points: 1) Has not won the french open.

    SUMMARY : If I have to choose the best player of the last 15 years, it would be either Rafa or Novak. Roger can’t be the best simply because he has a pathetic record against Rafa. You can’t have such a poor record against your chief rival.

    As far as Novak is concerned, he has proved that he can beat Roger in his favourite surface (us open and wimbledon final) and Rafa on his favourite surface (french open 2015) and many other clay .

    Even Rafa has beaten Novak and Roger on all surfaces. But the same cannot be said for Roger. He has not beaten Rafa at french inspite of facing him several times.

    So, as of now Rafael Nadal is the best player of the last 15 years. But, all of this will change if Novak Djokovic wins the French open.