Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal walk into a room and lock the door behind them. Like a classic Western movie, only one of them is walking back out.
There are a myriad of ways to compare and contrast the Big 3 in the interminable GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate. One way is simply mano a mano - how do they directly stack up against each other?
At this specific point in their unfinished careers, the player walking back out the door is Djokovic.
An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into three metrics from matches that Federer, Djokovic and Nadal played only against each other identifies that the Serbian ever so slightly edges the Swiss and the Spaniard. It’s important to note that they played 145 matches in ATP, Grand Slam and Davis Cup events. There are two Davis Cup matches that count in the overall win/loss record, but they are not part of official ATP match statistics.
Points, Games, Sets, Matches = Djokovic
Djokovic is the only player in the Big 3 to have won more than 50 per cent of points against his two arch rivals. When you break down their storied rivalry to the building blocks of our sport, Djokovic has won 50.34 per cent of points played in ‘Big 3 battles’, with Federer at 49.84 per cent and Nadal just a hair behind at 49.79 per cent.
Less than one percentage point separates the three. When putting greatness under the microscope, it’s razor thin margins that emerge. All told, the tennis world has been gifted with just over 50 thousand points (51,770) when these three players have stood across the net from each other.
Djokovic is the only player to win more than 50 per cent of games played, at 50.82 per cent. Nadal has won exactly half his games (50%), while Federer is nearby at 49.13 per cent. The first real separation is found in sets, where both Djokovic (52.26%) and Nadal (51.49%) have won more than half of their sets, while Federer sits lower at 46.27 per cent.
A metric that carries significant weight in this analysis is that Djokovic and Nadal have both won more matches than they have lost in the rivalry.
Matches Won/Lost (Including Davis Cup)
•Djokovic = 53.33% (56/105)
•Nadal = 52.63% (50/95)
•Federer = 42.39% (39/90)
Serving = Federer
Federer outperformed Djokovic and Nadal in the serving statistics, finishing on top in service points won (63.68%). The Swiss created the most separation with first-serve points won at 71.80 per cent, which was more than three percentages points higher than Djokovic (68.48%) and five percentage points better than Nadal (66.01%).
Federer served 782 aces against Djokovic and Nadal, while the Serbian and the Spaniard put up roughly the same amount (801) combined. One metric that may surprise most is that Djokovic did the best behind his second serve, winning 53.58 per cent. Nadal finished atop in break points saved at 60.61 per cent.
Returning = Nadal
The Spaniard won the most return points at 37.32 per cent and finished first with second-serve return points won at 48.89 per cent. Interestingly, Federer finished first with first-serve return points won at 32.10 per cent, which was right around two percentage points higher than his two rivals. Nadal was also the most ruthless on break points converted at 42.36 per cent.
It is clear that this three-way rivalry has helped elevate the trio to rarified air in our sport. Ironically, the more they competitively try and knock each other down the mountain, the higher up the peak all three of them collectively ascend.
Three Metrics: 143 ATP & Grand Slam Matches Between Djokovic, Federer & Nadal
Percentage Points Won
Percentage Games Won
Percentage Sets Won