Most tennis fans can’t agree on who among Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal will leave the best legacy in tennis. But here’s something they all agree. The trio comprises of the most dominant tennis players in the world. And thanks to that, they are known as the Big Three.
In this article, we review the Big Three’s career records since 2003 when Roger won his first major. We look at their head to head stats during Grand Slams, ATP Finals and who’s likely to retire as the greatest tennis player of all time.
First there were Four
The Big Three first all competed at ATP Finals in 2007. Roger Federer took home the trophy back then, defeating David Ferrer in straight sets. The 38-year-old Swiss, however, had won his first Major in 2003, winning the Wimbledon as a youngster.
In 2004, Federer won the Australia Open and quickly became the World #1. The second member of the Big Three, Rafael Nadal, made his breakthrough in 2005. The pair would go on to compete for majors and ATP Finals for another two years until Serbia’s Novak Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2007.
Britain’s Andy Murray then made his debut in 2008. And thanks to his incredible talent, he commanded the same attention as Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. His talent also earned him a place among the big three, leading to the players being referred to as the Big Four.
They made a good case for the nickname. For instance, they ranked as the world’s best four players consecutively from 2008 to 2012. Unfortunately, injuries plagued Murray between 2013 and 2016 and his dominance between came crashing down.
And then there were Three
With Murray’s constant absence from action, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are now known as the Big Three. They have been dominant since 2007 and have won 55 of the last 66 Majors. Their record in the ATP Finals is also marvelous, with Federer almost earning his seventh ATP Finals title this year.
Although he defeated Novak Djokovic, who’s won the event five in 12 appearances, he lost at the semifinals. Rafael Nadal has never won the tournament, though. It’s surprising considering his stellar tennis records. Betway’s Insider blog believes the Spaniard would probably have won an ATP Finals trophy were it not for Djokovic and Federer’s dominance at the event.
The Swiss is particularly dominant at the competition. He loves indoor hard courts, and he affirmed that in 2013 when he opposed Nadal’s move to have the ATP Finals be played at outdoor courts. Nadal does best on clay and he holds the best record on the platform among the Big Three.
Head to Head Bragging Rights
The Big Three have faced off multiple times throughout their careers. And depending on where they played, their Betway tennis betting odds have varied. Federer, for example, regularly gets the best odds for winning indoor hard court tournaments. But on Clay, it’s Nadal who’s often tipped to win.
Nonetheless, these are the facts. Djokovic has defeated Federer 4-3 times at the ATP Finals when his recent loss is accounted for. Also, he holds a winning 3-2 record against Nadal at the O2 arena.
Apart from the ATP finals, the Serb also claims the best records whenever the Big Three have met. He’s defeated Federer 20-10 since 2011 although he had lost 6-13 in the 2000s. Djokovic has been especially lethal during the Australia and US Opens, winning 6 out of the 10 times the pair have played.
Djokovic also has the better win rate versus his Spaniard rival. He’s faced his Spanish rival 54 times, winning 28 times. 15 of the Serb’s wins have happened during ATP finals. However, Nadal has more wins in Grand Slams, leading 9-6.
If the GOAT debate was settled based on their present records, Federer would easily edge out his opponents. He has 20 career Grand Slams and a total of 103 trophies, and ranks second to Jimmy Connors, who holds the record with 109 trophies.
Spain’s Nadal, who will end the year as the World #1, has 19 Majors and 84 total trophies. Notably, he won his 19th Grand Slam earlier this September after defeating Russia’s Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.
Djokovic, on the other hand, has 16 Grand Slams and 77 total trophies. He’s the youngest of the three at 32 years, though. Thanks to his youth, some people believe he will surpass Federer’s record and retire with the most Grand Slams.
When it comes to rankings, Federer reigns supreme once again. He’s been the World #1 for 310 weeks in his career, 237 of which he topped the charts consecutively. His closest rival, Nadal, has topped the charts for 196 weeks. He’s also completed the year as the first ranked tennis player five times—six times once this year is done.
Djokovic has a better World #1 record than Nadal, however. He’s topped the charts for 275 weeks, ranking behind Federer and America’s Pete Sampras. Like Nadal, though, he’s a five-time ATP year end No.1.
The Clay and Hard Court versus Grass Argument
As we mentioned earlier, critics claim Federer’s only reason for dominating the ATP Finals is because the matches are held at indoor hard courts. Even Nadal has previously said there needs to be games played on clay to make the tournament fairer.
Djokovic has been neutral in the conversation, however, and it’s easy to see why. He’s edged out Nadal 19-7 on hard courts, drawn 2-2 on grass but lost 7-17 on clay. Versus Federer, the Serb has won 19-8 on hard courts, tied 4-4 on clay and won 3-1 on grass.
After reading our analysis above, you’ll have a difficult time deciding who’s the ‘GOAT’ of tennis. Djokovic might be the youngest but he just lost to the oldest of the trio. Nadal is one Major away from tying the Swiss’ record but he’s never won the ATP Finals. But instead of poring over who should be the GOAT, a better idea is to cherish their brilliance while it lasts.