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Comparing ‘The Big Three’: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic

The past two decades of tennis has been graced with the dominance and grandeur of the Big Three. The Big Three is the nickname for the infamous trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is highly unlikely that we will witness a similar ‘Golden Era’ of dominance anytime soon again.

There have been debates and opinions on who the greatest among the Big Three is. Let’s break it down, once and for all.

Grand Slam Title Race

When one comes across the list of male tennis players with the most number of Grand Slam titles, no brownie points for guessing which three top that prestigious list. Till last week, Spanish ace, Rafael Nadal edged past Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in this list, with 22 Grand Slam titles. Federer retired with 20 Grand Slam titles to his name and Djokovic had 21 Grand Slam Titles.

‘The Djoker’ grabbed the opportunity to equal Nadal’s record this previous Sunday night when he defeated Stefano Tsitsipas in a dominant fashion to win the Australian Open for a record 10th time. At the same time, he continued his streak of never losing an Australian Open final. Djokovic joins Nadal with 22 Grand Slam titles to his name. Only Serena Williams has more in the history of the game, with 23 Grand Slam titles over the course of his illustrious career.

Meanwhile, the Serbian triumphs over Federer (31 Finals) and Nadal (30 Finals) in the list of most Grand Slam final appearances with 33 in his bag. With Federer retired, an injury-laden Nadal, one can expect Djokovic to distance the lead in the aforementioned two list very soon. This is highly impressive when one takes into account that Djokovic won his first Major title only in 2008. It was the up and coming Serbian who halted Roger Federer’s and Rafael Nadal’s streak of 11 consecutive majors with his win at the 2008 Australian Open.

Verdict: Novak Djokovic

The Battle of The Surfaces and Grand Slams

Let’s go into the small details of the Big Three Era of Dominance. When we look at the four major Grand Slam titles, we notice that each of The Big Three has their strengths and surface preferences better suited to their irreplicable playing styles.

Wimbledon (Grass): Federer (record-breaking 8 titles), Djokovic (7 titles), Nadal (2 titles).

French Open (Clay): Nadal (record-breaking 14 titles), Djokovic (2 titles), Federer (1 title)

Australian Open (Synthetic): Djokovic (record-breaking 9 titles), Federer (6 titles), Nadal (2 titles)

US Open (Acrylic Hard): Federer (5 titles), Nadal (4 titles), Djokovic (2 titles).

Such was the extent of their dominance that between 2004 and 2019, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Marat Safin, Juan Martin del Porto and Martic Cilic were the only other men to win any Grand Slam tournament in that time period.

Barring the great Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal is the only man to win the French-Wimbledon-US Open trio in a calendar year (2010). Nadal holds the upper-hand over the other two here, as he triumphantly won the Majors on all the surfaces in 2010. He boasts of the record of becoming the youngest player to win the Career Golden Slam and the Double Career Surface Slam.

Djokovic and Federer have managed to win all Majors barring the prestigious French Open in a calendar year. But both, Djokovic and Federer have managed to reach the finals of all Majors in a year. A feat that wasn’t achieved by anyone barring Laver until Federer himself in 2006.

Verdict: The only right answer is The Big Three.

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The Tale of ATP Masters and ATP Finals

The Serbian is the only player in history of the ATP to achieve the Career Golden Masters (in 2018). If that isn’t impressive enough, to prove that class is permanent, he went to repeat the rare feat in 2020. A Career Golden Masters is bestowed upon a player when they complete the set of all nine Masters singles titles in a year.

Djokovic tops the list of most ATP Masters singles titles won, with 38 to his name. Nadal (36) and Federer (28) fill up second and third position in the list respectively.

Meanwhile, Djokovic and Federer have both won 6 ATP Finals.

Verdict: Novak Djokovic

Also Read: Wimbledon Trims Men’s Doubles To Three Sets

Breaking Down Their Prime Years

Let’s look at the statistics of The Big Three in their prime years.

Federer (2006): Won 92 out of 97 matches. 94.84 win percentage.

Djokovic (2015): Won 82 out of 88 matches. 93.2 win percentage.

Nadal (2010): Won 71 out of 81 matches. 87.7 win percentage.

In Djokovic’s infamous 2015 run, he won six out of the eight Masters finals he played in. In comparison, Federer won four Masters titles in his ever-so dominant 2006 run and Nadal won three Masters titles in his record-breaking 2010 run.

Verdict: Roger Federer

Also Read: Highest Paid Tennis Players In 2024.

World Rankings

The Big Three were inseparable from each other at the top of ATP rankings. They comprised the top three positions together for eight years (in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2019). Collectively speaking, they’ve been World No 1 for a total of 892 weeks. Djokovic for a record 373 weeks, Federer for 310 weeks and Nadal for 209 weeks.

If we go into depth, we see that Djokovic was year-end World No 1 for seven consecutive years. This is in comparison to the Swiss and Spanish’s individual best of five consecutive years.

If Novak Djokovic wins his Australian Open Men’s Final encounter, he shall return to the top of the rankings once again.

Verdict: Novak Djokovic

Also Read: Australian Open 2024 Prize Money: How Much Money Will AO Winner, Runner-Up And Others Get?

Head-To-Head Comparison

Federer versus Djokovic: 23-27 (Win-Loss)

Federer versus Nadal: 16-24 (Win-Loss)

Nadal versus Djokovic: 29-30 (Win-Loss)

Federer Win Percentage Against Djokovic and Nadal: 43.3%

Djokovic Win Percentage Against Federer and Nadal: 52.3%

Nadal Win Percentage Against Federer and Djokovic: 53.5%

Verdict: The statistics favour Rafael Nadal

Also Read: Who Is Novak Djokovic Coach? Know All About Goran Ivanisevic

International Achievements

Federer: Davis Cup (1x), Olympics singles (Silver 1x). Olympics doubles (Gold 1x), Hopman Cup (3x)

Nadal: Davis Cup (5x), Olympics singles (Gold 1x), Olympic doubles (Gold 1x)

Djokovic: Davis Cup (1x), ATP Cup (1x), Olympics singles (Bronze)

Verdict: Rafael Nadal

Also Read: Who Is Novak Djokovic Coach? Know All About Goran Ivanisevic

The Final Verdict

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal pioneered and sculpted the Golden Era of Tennis. We can get into the topic of subjectivity, surfaces, statistics and comparisons but at the end of the day, the sport has been tremendously lucky to see these three greats dominate the courts. These three and their battles on the court have inculcated a passion for the game of tennis within an entire generation. With Federer now a spectator of the game, and Nadal infiltrated with injuries, Djokovic doesn’t need an invitation to further cement his legacy.

The ‘New Gen’ is inarguably on the rise but to eclipse the passion, sweat, achievements of the Big Three will be a tremendous ask.

Also Read: Novak Djokovic Slams His Injury Critics

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