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Djokovic vs. Nadal vs. Federer: ‘GOAT’ debate, grand slam wins, big titles and Olympic medals

World No.1 Djokovic was beaten by Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics semi-final

There was a major shock in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tennis tournament after world No.1 Novak Djokovic was beaten by Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the men’s singles semi-finals.

Having already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles in 2021, Team Serbia star Djokovic was bidding to win a “golden slam” - all four majors and an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year - but the defeat to Zverev ended that dream. The golden slam has only been achieved by one player in history - women’s tennis icon Steffi Graf in 1988.  

Zverev’s 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory means he will now play Russian Karen Khachanov in the gold medal match on Sunday in Tokyo. 

Djokovic then missed out on an Olympic medal after losing against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze match. He was also due to play alongside Team Serbia partner Nina Stojanović in the mixed doubles bronze match against Australian duo Ash Barty and John Peers. However, a shoulder injury meant Djokovic pulled out of the match and the bronze went to Barty and Peers. 

‘Big three’ head to New York next 

Once the Olympics are over the focus will be on the US Open - the final grand slam of the year - which starts on 30 August. Djokovic and his “big three” rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will all head to New York looking to win a 21st slam title.

Alexander Zverev beat Novak Djokovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 at Tokyo 2020

Alexander Zverev beat Novak Djokovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 at Tokyo 2020

Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

‘Djokovic can win four or five more slams’

John McEnroe has backed Djokovic to win the grand slam race against his “big three” rivals, TennisHead.net reports. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live 6-Love-6 the American tennis legend said: “I’m going to say Roger Federer’s never going to win another one. I think Rafael Nadal wins one more and Novak Djokovic is going to win four of five more, that’s my prediction. Obviously it depends on health and fitness but that’s my prediction.”

2021 key dates 
  • Australian Open, Melbourne: men’s winner Novak Djokovic; women’s winner Naomi Osaka
  • French Open, Paris: men’s winner Novak Djokovic; women’s winner Barbora Krejcikova
  • Wimbledon, All England Club, London: men’s winner Novak Djokovic; women’s winner Ash Barty
  • 24 July-1 August: Olympic tennis tournament at Tokyo 2020
  • 30 August-12 September: US Open (New York, United States)

Who is the ‘GOAT’?

Tennis fans will argue for hours debating the following question: which male player is the greatest of all time (GOAT)? 

Icons such as Björn Borg, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors get a special mention in the “GOAT” discussion, but for many people it’s a choice of one of the big three. 

After his victory at Wimbledon Novak Djokovic has joined Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 career grand slam wins.

Djokovic has dominated on Melbourne’s hard courts with nine of his 20 slams coming in Australia. Nadal is the all-time “king of clay” with 13 French Open victories out of his 20. And Federer has eight wins on grass at Wimbledon from his collection of 20 slams. 

Here we look at the career records of the big three GOAT contenders...

Djokovic vs. Nadal vs. Federer: how they compare

Novak Djokovic
  • Nationality: Serbian 
  • Age: 34
  • World ranking: 1
  • Career titles: 84
  • Grand slam titles: 20 (9 x Australian Open: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021; 2 x French Open: 2016, 2021; 6 x Wimbledon: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021; 3 x US Open: 2011, 2015, 2018)
  • Big titles: 60 (19 grand slams; 5 ATP finals; 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles)
  • Olympic medals: singles bronze at Beijing 2008
Rafael Nadal
  • Nationality: Spanish 
  • Age: 35
  • World ranking: 3
  • Career titles: 88
  • Grand slam titles: 20 (1 x Australian Open: 2009; 13 x French Open: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020; 2 x Wimbledon: 2008, 2010; 4 x US Open: 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019)
  • Big titles: 57 (20 grand slams; 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles; 1 Olympics singles)
  • Olympic medals: singles gold at Beijing 2008; men’s doubles gold at Rio 2016 
Roger Federer
  • Nationality: Swiss 
  • Age: 39
  • World ranking: 8
  • Career titles: 103
  • Grand slam titles: 20 (6 x Australian Open: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017, 2018; 1 x French Open: 2009; 8 x Wimbledon: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2017; 5 x US Open: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)
  • Big titles: 54 (20 grand slams; 6 ATP Finals; 28 ATP Masters 1000 titles)
  • Olympic medals: singles silver at London 2012; men’s doubles gold at Beijing 2008
The big three at the Olympic Games

Spaniard Nadal has won two Olympic gold medals: a singles gold at Beijing 2008 and men’s doubles gold at Rio 2016. Federer won a men’s doubles gold with Swiss team-mate Stan Wawrinka in Beijing and also a singles silver at London 2012. Djokovic was a bronze medal winner for Serbia in Beijing.

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