MATCH POINT: Official – Swiss legend Roger Federer is the GOAT

MATCH POINT: Official – Swiss legend Roger Federer is the GOAT (*according to the history buffs… Novak Djokovic is still mine!)

  • Roger Federer came out on top in GOAT list, just ahead of Serena Williams
  • Novak Djokovic was third in list devised by writer and broadcaster Chris Bowers
  • Iga Swiatek’s dominant display was overshadowed by chaotic scenes in Cancun 

A joy last week to once again hear the calmly assured tones of John Barrett, microphone in hand, joining in a fascinating discussion at Wimbledon about who really is the greatest tennis player of all time.

The former player, administrator, Davis Cup captain and BBC commentator, still going strong at 92, was lending his experience to a panel debate which ended with surprising conclusions. Not least in his own assessment, drawn from a well of living first-hand knowledge whose depth must be almost unmatched.

The occasion was a history of tennis conference, which drew nearly 300 enthusiasts to the All England Club for a series of presentations and lectures on everything from the game’s art to modern social media.

Among them was an attempt by writer and broadcaster Chris Bowers to apply some kind of scientific formula to the question of who is the GOAT irrespective of gender, a topic which has never been more prevalent than in the recent era of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.

While at pains to emphasise its subjective (and largely lighthearted) nature, Bowers’ underlying thesis was that greatness has to be judged by more than numerical success.

Swiss legend Roger Federer came out on top in GOAT list, just ahead of Serena Williams

Novak Djokovic was third in the GOAT list devised by writer and broadcaster Chris Bowers

He has therefore come up with a weighting system, taking into account numbers of titles (40 per cent), a conglomeration of factors headed ‘economic pulling power’ (25 per cent), transcendence of mere sport and tennis (15 per cent) and measures focusing on an era’s relative level of competition, aestheticism, team performances and doubles. After crunching these numbers the winner was… Federer with 93 per cent, followed by Serena on 92 per cent and Djokovic on 88 per cent, marginally ahead of Nadal. The winner was a popular choice within the room with an electronic poll of 31 per cent of attendees giving the Swiss legend the most votes.

When summoned up to make his contribution, Barrett was keen to name-check Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzales, pointing to the amount of events they missed out on while being unable to play as professionals in the pre-Open era.

Put on the spot, however, he expressed the view that the real GOAT may have been American Maureen Connolly. She played in 11 Grand Slams and won nine of them, and in the early 1950s amassed a match record of 259-16 which included some extraordinary winning streaks. That was before she was forced to retire at 19 after a horse-riding accident. She died tragically young from cancer, aged 34.

A personal if somewhat unoriginal view — which I think survives recency bias — is that Djokovic’s sheer weight of significant titles, especially achieved in the era he was born into, has to make him the GOAT of either sex, regardless of any extraneous factors.

And before those notoriously sensitive folk from the online ‘Nolefam’ whip themselves up into a state of frenzied indignation, the whole exercise was designed to stimulate thought, and not to provide a non-existent definitive answer.

Iga glory forgotten in farce

You need to go back all the way to, erm, 2020 to find a tennis event that unravelled as spectacularly as this year’s WTA Finals.

The scenes in Cancun brought to mind the Adria Tour, the ill-fated project from the height of the pandemic which was meant to provide some entertainment while the regular circuit was suspended.

That, however, was an on-the-hoof production dreamed up by Novak Djokovic and associates. The Finals is meant to be about the most prestigious event outside the Grand Slams and a key asset for women’s tennis.

Iga Swiatek’s dominant display at WTA Finals was overshadowed by chaotic scenes in Cancun

It is a shame that a dominant performance from Iga Swiatek, which saw her reclaim the world No 1 position, is not what will be remembered from a week which careered from one disaster to another. You know you are in trouble when even the television broadcasters, who in tennis are conditioned to put the most positive gloss on all before them, start pointing out the shortcomings.

After allocating the event to coastal Mexico at the tail-end of hurricane season, only 52 days ahead of the start date, just about everything that could have gone wrong did.

The weather, power blackouts, poor crowds, a dodgy playing surface, music interrupting play, the wrong time and place — that hackneyed old phrase, the perfect storm.

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka ended up endorsing one of the many video montages of the various misfortunes which emerged via social media. 

‘I’m dying laughing or maybe crying,’ she commented. If there is one thing worse than anger, it might be mockery. One can only feel sorry for the many staff who will have worked long hours and tried their hardest to make the best of it, having been given the ultimate hospital pass by Steve Simon and the rest of the WTA’s leadership.

Few players from any country have plugged away more determinedly than the Isle of Man’s Billy Harris. You had to be pleased to see him, aged 28, come through qualifying at the Sofia Open and then play and win his first main-draw match at an ATP Tour event yesterday against Marc-Andrea Huesler. 

No excuse for Paris schedule disaster

Last week’s Paris Masters at Bercy served up a disappointing final with a predictable winner in Novak Djokovic, but there were plenty of quality matches along the way.

Enough to counterbalance more controversy around late-night scheduling, which saw the withdrawal of Jannik Sinner after a 2.36am finish at the end of a night session which did not begin until 10.33pm. 

Yet severe overruns from the daytime programme were all but inevitable when it was loaded with four matches on the main court starting at 11am. 

Jannik Sinner withdrew from Paris Masters due to the controversial late-night scheduling

As ever, it seems tournament promoters and officials are the last people to notice that, for a variety of reasons, matches go on for longer than ever nowadays. Wakey, wakey. This whole area is going to be addressed, apparently, at Board meetings during the ATP Finals next week.

In the case of Paris, specifically, the situation should be eased by the tournament’s expected move in 2025 from its venue, the Accor Arena, which has long since been outgrown. 

It will be shifting to the La Defense Arena on the western side of the city, not far north of Roland Garros in what is Paris’s equivalent to the Canary Wharf financial district. 

It is the home of Racing 92 rugby club, and its 94,000 square metre capacity should see an improvement to the two dreadful outside courts which act as secondary stadiums at Bercy.

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