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

Novak Djokovic remains level with his big three rivals on 20 slams after losing the US Open final

Novak Djokovic’s hopes of completing the “calendar grand slam” - winning all four majors in one year - were crushed after the world No.1 lost in straight sets to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open. 

After lifting the Australian Open, Wimbledon and French Open trophies in 2021, Serbian star Djokovic headed to New York aiming to win his 21st career slam title and move one ahead of “big three” rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. However, the 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 defeat at Arthur Ashe Stadium means he remains on 20 and saw world No.2 Medvedev claim his first grand slam.

Speaking after the final, an emotional Djokovic thanked the New York crowd for their support. “Of course, part of me is very sad,” he said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, this loss, I mean, considering everything that was on the line. But on the other hand I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something I’ll remember forever. The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it’s as strong as winning 21 grand slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special. These are the kind of moments that you cherish.”

He also admitted to feeling “relief” that his quest for the calendar slam was over, BBC Sport reported. “The build-up for this tournament, everything mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot,” he added. “It was a lot to handle. I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time I felt sadness, disappointment, and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment they created.”

Who is the ‘GOAT’ of men’s tennis?

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 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: 6
  • 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: 40
  • World ranking: 9
  • 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 Olympics

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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