Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Djokovic as GOAT? (III) and COVID distortions

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I have repeatedly mentioned Djokovic as the potential GOAT of tennis, including in at least [1] and [2].

Last time around ([2]), I wrote that:

Should Djokovic add this [2021] year’s U.S. Open, winning the Grand Slam, this would probably close the debate for me. If he does not, I suspect that the developments over the next one or two years will leave the same conclusion. (But let us wait and see.)

While Djokovic was “only” the runner-up, I see it as time to close the books on the current* candidates: Djokovic is the GOAT of at least the Open Era.**

*What future candidates might achieve is yet to see.

**For reasons discussed in older texts, a comparison outside the Open Era is even trickier, but there are precious few candidates that are even on the table as superior, even should we drop the “Open Era” restriction.

This for two reasons:

  1. Djokovic has torn ahead on my main proxy criterion, weeks at number one, and has an overall record in almost any other category that matches the best of the best, including Federer.

    Specifically, he now stands at a massive 356 weeks (Federer 310; no-one else above 300) and counting. This despite being shortchanged 22 weeks due to a COVID freeze.* True number, then, 378 or well over 7 (!) years. (Cf. Wikipedia.)

    *At the time of other texts on the topic, I was under the impression that these weeks had counted in his favor. Note that he would almost certainly have had the same set of weeks at number one even had there been no freeze.

  2. The arbitrary removal of Djokovic from the on-going 2022 French Open makes any future comparison with Federer and Nadal flawed. Djokovic has now missed two majors, in which he would have been the favorite, for reasons external to him.* He has already lost the chance of taking the Grand Slam this year and he risks an unfair and premature end to his time at number one, as he has been given a severe points handicap. Unless one of the other two achieves far more than is currently likely, any edge that they might gain in some criterion (especially, majors won**) would be unfair. This especially should such a gain be made when Djokovic is unfairly absent and would have been favored to win, e.g. a gain through a Nadal*** win at the on-going French Open.

    *To be contrasted with e.g. missing a major due to injury, as there is a trade off—train and compete harder and increase the injury risk or reduce the injury risk and risk less success while healthy.

    **And note that the low usefulness of “majors won” was an early motivation behind my writings on tennis—even before the current situation arose.

    ***Federer is not participating due to an injury.

    Worse, there have been rumors that Djokovic might be prevented from competing at other tournaments too, including the other majors of 2022 or some of the future Australian Open tournaments. I have yet to hear a final word on this, but it would turn a severe distortion into a catastrophic one.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 20, 2022 at 9:15 am

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