How The Big Three Have Set Themselves Apart The Past 30 Years
Three G.O.A.T.S. are better than one.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have elevated our sport — and each other — to rarefied levels over the past two decades. Are we doing their stellar careers a disservice by trying to pick one from the pack to anoint as superior to the other two?
Does the “Greatest Of All Time” tag have to be singular? Not according to the numbers.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the “Big Three” provides a new metric to compare their prodigious body of work: points won in their careers. Statistics in tennis were first recorded in 1991, so the following analysis compares all players from the past 30 years. Instead of ranking players one ahead of another, this breakdown groups them together in four distinct levels based on different tiers of percentage of points won.
It must be noted that the distinguished careers of players like Bjorn Borg, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and others are not included because statistics were not recorded during their playing days, while players such as Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang have only part of their illustrious careers included from 1991 onwards.
Level 1 = 54%+ Points Won
Only three players in the past 30 years have averaged winning north of 54 per cent of all points they played. If you guessed a Spaniard, a Serbian and a Swiss, you would be dead right.
Rafael Nadal - 54.55% (96,208/176,360)
Novak Djokovic - 54.40% (92,938/170,841)
Roger Federer - 54.17% (126,548/233,608)
The Big Three all exist less than half a percentage point away from each other. Instead of looking at the minuscule gap between each one, try evaluating their performance as a group. There is not one man standing on top of the mountain. There are three.
Level 2 = 53%+ Points Won
These four players have had exemplary careers and are right on the heels of the Big Three:
Pete Sampras - 53.51% (72,318/135,143)
Andre Agassi - 53.40% (72,750/136,240)
Andy Murray - 53.17% (72,316/135,997)
Andy Roddick - 53.07% (63,770/120,153)
It’s interesting to see that Sampras and Agassi, who battled each other 34 times, ended up with only about a tenth of a percentage point separating them. Andy Murray is still working on his legacy in 2021, while former No. 1 Andy Roddick joins this elite group of players.
Level 3 = 52.5%+ Points Won
Fifteen players land in the 52 per cent points won range, so it’s split into two halves, with this group winning 52.5% to 52.9%:
Stefan Edberg - 52.79% (38,065/72,105)
Richard Krajicek - 52.57% (52,513/99,891)
Jim Courier - 52.57% (47,242/89,873)
Michael Chang - 52.52% (64,652/123,090)
Juan Martin del Potro - 52.51% (47,835/91,090)
This grouping of players features two former No. 1-ranked players in Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier, with Juan Martin del Potro the only active player who still has an opportunity to improve his metrics.
Level 4 = 52.0%+ Points Won
This grouping of 10 players won between 52.0 per cent and 52.49 per cent of points in their outstanding careers:
Michael Stich - 52.46% (36,685/69,926)
Ivan Lendl - 52.46% (20,765/39,583)
Milos Raonic - 52.35% (43,186/82,491)
Lleyton Hewitt - 52.34% (70,937/135,533)
Boris Becker - 52.33% (37,851/72,327)
Guillermo Coria - 52.33% (26,153/49,975)
Thomas Muster - 52.30% (48,513/92,764)
Tomas Berdych - 52.19% (75,246/144,165)
David Ferrer - 52.16% (87,036/166,877)
Robin Soderling - 52.04% (37,075/71,245)
The next level down — players who have won between 51 and 52 per cent of their points — features 53 players. Overall, there are 178 players who won more points than they have lost in their careers from 1991-2020. Each of the four levels above are overflowing with talent, charisma and trophies from the biggest tournaments our sport has to offer.
This type of analysis lends itself to appreciate the ongoing careers of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in unison as a whole greater than its parts. It’s an opportunity to step back and appreciate their momentous careers together rather than trying to cherry-pick a metric to push one ahead of the other two. After all, they all owe a debt of gratitude to each other for continually raising the bar.
The mountain is high. While everyone is looking up, only Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are looking down.