The GOAT Candidates: the best 10


Please visit my new site/blog: The Tennis GOATs

According to our proposed division, there are 4 types of achievements:

  1. SUPER-HEAVYWEIGHT: achievements without which a player’s name could not be even mentioned in the GOAT debate (multiple GS titles + multiple weeks/year-end finishes as #1);
  2. HEAVYWEIGHT: achievements that greatly boost a player’s candidacy (big titles);
  3. MIDDLEWEIGHT: achievements that provide a subtler nuance to the discussion and, in case of close contenders, make break the tie (tiebreakers);
  4. Lightweight: achievements that, although very impressive, can never have the strength to alter a verdict about the relative greatness of the players.

The first two (the big numbers) are mentioned in every discussion about the GOAT. The last two normally comes into scene to heat the discussion up!

That division needs, of course, to be nuanced and gain further insight. However, it may already serve to help us select who are our best possible candidates.

First step: direct elimination

Using (a), we can eliminate all players who don’t have these essential/sine-qua-non achievements and greatly reduce our list of candidates. The selected and remaining few will deserve our attention and the participation in the debate, either as a “leading” or a “supporting” actor.

Second step: the knock-outs

Using (a) & (b) together, we will pair the selected candidates against each other & see if more potential candidates could be eliminated. A “clear” elimination would happen if and only if a candidate A has a better resume than candidate B beyond any reasonable doubt and argument (we shall explain more precisely what we mean by that).


Let’s first select those players in the Open Era who satisfy our main condition (a), that is, select those who won multiple Grand Slam titles AND spent considerable time atop the rankings.


  • First cut: in the Open Era, 54 different players won a GS title.
  • Second cut: of those 54, only 30 won multiple titles;
  • Third cut: of those 30, only 15 won at least five GS titles:

They are: Laver, Newcombe, and Rosewall; Connors, Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Becker, Wilander, Edberg, Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.


  • First cut: from 1973[1] to present, only 26 players ranked as #1;
  • Second cut: of those 26, only 17 finished as #1.
  • Third cut: of those 17, only 12 have spent at least 52 weeks atop the ranking.

They are: Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Borg, Edberg, Courier, Hewitt, and Agassi.

Combining both filters, only 10 players[2] managed to (1) win at least 5 GS titles; (2) finish as year-end #1; and (3) spend at least 52 weeks as #1.

They are: Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Borg, Edberg, and Agassi.

As we can see, by following these two simple criteria we could quickly reduce our number of GOAT contenders to only 10 players!

In the next step – the knock-outs –, we’ll use the same two criteria to fine filter and further reduce our pool of candidates.


Let’s take this to next stage and see if, now using the criteria (a) & (b) combined, we can cleanly and clearly – i.e. without any shadow of controversy – reduce further our list of candidates.

Let’s call this stage “the knock-outs”: the survivors will be nominated as the “true GOAT candidates” and hence deserve a more complete and thorough analysis of their achievements.

Please, see next post: Selecting the GOAT candidates – the Knock-Outs .

[1] The computerised rankings were introduced in 1973. Before that, a panel of experts elected the #1 player at the end of the season. 1968-1969: Laver; 1970: Laver/Rosewall (shared); 1971: Stan Smith/John Newcombe; 1972: Stan Smith.

[2] To those 10 players, we would certainly have to add Laver and Rosewall (and perhaps Newcombe), who won more than 5 GS titles and spent considerable amount of time atop the rankings. However, as a significant part of their careers took place before the Open Era, we found more appropriate to analyse their resumes separately. We shall compare them against each other and the winner will be able to face the Open Era winner.  It’s a classic “divide & conquer” strategy.

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