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Tennis has got your G.O.A.T.

  Rocket man:  Rod “the Rocket” Laver in a classic pose, Rotterdam, 1969

Rocket man:  Rod “the Rocket” Laver in a classic pose, Rotterdam, 1969

Ah, spring: Time for the Monte Carlo Open, the clay-court season and the game within the game:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?

Nothing men’s tennis loves better than a discussion of who’s the Greatest of  All Time (G.O.A.T.). This usually involves the Federinas squaring off against the Nadalistas. You know, Roger Federer has the most slam titles with 17, but Rafael Nadal is right behind him with 14. Although lately, Rafa, the king of clay, has been in a bit of a slump, while Novak Djokovic has passed him to move up to No. 6 on the list of most weeks as No.  1. (Nole now has 142.)

So what is the measure of greatness – the most slams and weeks at No. 1 (that would be Feddy) or the person who owns the person with the most slams and weeks at No. 1 (that would be Rafa) or the person who beat them both, often back-to-back, to become No. 1 (that would be Nole)?

To which I ask, when did time end? The real measure of greatness is time, lots of it. It’s one thing to say that Alexander the Great is the greatest field commander of all time, because he’s been dead for more than 2,000 years. But the greatest tennis player may not have yet been born.

Better to ask, Who is the greatest tennis player to date? I would say Rod Laver, who won the Grand Slam twice – that’s the four majors (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) in a calendar year. And Laver did it in tennis’ barnstorming days when there were no big bucks or entourages. He was just a bloke. (Here’s a measure of what a different time it was. When he married, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and other players stood outside the church with raised tennis rackets forming a bridge for the happy couple to walk under. Can you see Fed, Rafa and Nole doing that at Andy Murray’s recent wedding?) To me, Laver’s everyday-ness made his accomplishment all the more impressive.

Can Nole succeed him? To do so, he’ll have to win his first French Open, the culmination of the clay-court season and the only one of the slams he hasn’t taken. Or will Rafa reassert himself to win another French? Or will Fed use Rafa’s vulnerability and the clay-court season to become No. 1?

These questions are far more interesting that the unresolvable G.O.A.T.