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Nadal & Djokovic, breaking down the GOATS

Comparing who is the best tennis player is never easy. You would think it is simpler than comparing say two footballers, as tennis is an individual game. You want to know who is better, get them to play against each other. Whoever wins is better. Done.

However by that assessment, Dustin Brown, the world number 151, a player who has never won an ATP singles title, is therefore better than Rafa Nadal, having a 100% win record against the Spaniard, after defeating him twice, once at Wimbledon and once at Halle. So yes, comparing who is the best isn’t always easy.

Two players who have achieved very similar successes in their careers, and are both at the top of the game, literally at the top as they are ranked number one and two in the world, is Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal.

Djokovic, the current world number one has won 16 Grand Slams, 75 ATP titles, and been world number one for over 260 weeks. Rafa Nadal, the current world number two, has won 18 Grand Slams, 83 ATP titles, and been world number one for just under 200 weeks. They have played each other 54 times, with Djokovic winning 28 to Nadals 26, so very close indeed. However, when you look through the stats, these two players have similar successes, but achieve it in a very different way.


Rafa Nadal is well known a being the King of Clay. With 12 French Open titles, the only grand slam that takes place on the clay, you can hardly argue with that. He then has 11 titles from the Barcelona Open and Monte Carlo Masters, as well as nine from the Italian Open Masters, all of which, are on clay. If you then add all of those up, that gives you 43 titles, just over half of his total tally of 83, from only 4 tournaments.

If we then look at Djokovic, it has taken him twice as many tournaments to get to as many titles, with his most succesful events being the Australian Open with seven, the Miami Masters and China Open with six each, along with five from the ATP World Tour finals, Indian Wells Masters and Wimbledon. For Djokovic, it took nine different tournaments to reach Nadals 43 titles.


So it took Nadal fewer tournaments, but does that mean he is a better player? The big difference is that Nadal focuses on playing specific events, which is why he holds the all time record for the most singles title at one Major, the most singles title at one Masters, and the most singles title at a 500 event.

Djokovic on the other hand, focuses on winning different tournaments. That is why he holds the record for being the only player to complete the Career Golden Masters (winning all the ATP Masters), as well as the Elite Titles Sweep (winning all 14 top tier ATP events), and holding all 4 Grand Slams plus the Year-End finals at the same time.

This comparison is very similar to the debate between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in football. Ronaldo has had great success at multiple clubs, whilst Messi has had great success at only Barcelona. Nadal is therefore similar to Messi, whilst Djokovic is more like Ronaldo. The question is, is it more of an accomplishment to have numerous achievements at one location, or fewer success at multiple ones?


With the US Open starting today, there is a good chance that Nadal or Djokovic could take the title, with both players winning at Flushing Meadows 3 times a piece. However, regardless of who wins, the debate of who is better will still rage on.

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