I posted this in the General Discussion section awhile back to no avail, I thought I'd repost here - would love to get feedback on how this idea applied to past greats/time periods. --------------------------- In an article about Ali, Norman Mailer once called the heavyweight champion of the world "God's big toe." Rather than using the ATP rankings (which I actually think do a pretty good job these days, roughly speaking), what if you were to determine best player alive status not just with ranking points or titles, but with those key head to head moments when the crown/title belt was snatched from another man - the God's Big Toe matches, where all doubts are resolved, all excuses washed away, all questions answered. Note that stakes matter - GS results aren't always where the crown is won/lost, but a loss here or there to a rival at a lesser event doesn't outweigh a recent history of domination. Note also that the title can lapse with continuous poor play - take 2003, for example, when Hewitt let it slip but no single individual stepped into the breach until the following season, when all doubts about Fed's ascension were resolved after Roddick went haywire waiting for the rain to stop falling in London. Here's my rough timeline for who was God's Big Toe the last several years - again, if folks are interested I'd get a kick out of seeing how far back the concept could go: Andre Agassi, AO semifinals, '00 (enroute to 3 majors in 4 tries, takes out Sampras in a rubber match of sorts from the prior season) - Wimbledon semifinals, 2000 Pete Sampras, Wimbledon final 2000 (reasserting supremacy; once again, there to snatch the title belt after Agassi dropped it at Rafter's feet) - US Open final, 2000 Marat Safin, US Open final, 2000 (disemboweled Sampras; the kind of victory that is so comprehensive in a Darwinian-sense, tennis wise, that it just doesn't matter that the kid hadn't done a whole hell of a lot previously) - YEC semifinal, 2000 (couldn't solidify his season and standing with a win over the other great lion of the 90s, Agassi) Gustavo Kuerten, YEC final, 2000 (closed the book on the 90s with back to back victories over Sampras/Agassi; solidified a season with his own major title) - YEC RR, 2001 (washed out with a trio of RR losses after a solid year; didn't even advance to face Hewitt, who was coming on strong) Lleyton Hewitt, YEC final, 2001 (picking up the title from Kuerten, although without a direct victory) - sometime spring 2003 Vacant, Spring 2003 - Wimbledon 2004 (too much volatility - could argue Federer at YEC '03 or AO '04, but it really wasn't until he conclusively overtook the prior YE #1 Roddick at Wimbledon 2004, in the most meaningful match of the first half of the decade, that all questions were answered) Roger Federer, Wimbledon final 2004 (d. Roddick, resolving any lingering doubts that he'd overtaken the prior YE #1) - Wimbledon final 2008 (with a nod to Safin's final barbaric yawp against Fed in Melbourne, 2005, and Nadal's peerless work on clay during the latter stages of Fed's reign) Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon final, 2008 (d. Federer, obvious reasons why) - approx. RG 2009 Roger Federer, approx. RG 2009 (picking up the belt and the career GS from an injured and drained Nadal, who he'd just beaten in the Madrid final after Djokovic softened the clay king up) - Madrid final, 2010 Rafael Nadal, Madrid final, 2010 (formally reclaiming the crown from Fed, who in truth had just been renting it this time, then embarking on the first Old World Triple since Borg '78) - Wimbledon final, 2011 Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon final, 2011 (body slammed Nadal on a third surface in mere months - note that I could be convinced his reign began at the 2011 Rome final, when he was spitting diamond cutters at Nadal on sea level clay) - Cincy final, 2012 Roger Federer, Cincy 2012 (the Wimbledon semifinal victory over Djokovic wasn't enough to reclaim the throne, given that Djokovic had topped him on French clay a few weeks earlier; the bagel set at Cincy a few weeks later was) - YEC final, 2012 Novak Djokovic, YEC final, 2012 (in the match that determined God's Big Toe as well as player of the year) - US Open final, 2013 Rafael Nadal, US Open final, 2013 (Montreal wasn't enough - needed a non-clay major win against Novak to solidify) - present You could argue that Nadal was still God's Big Toe from '09 - '10, since Fed never really quieted doubts that the greatest warrior on the field at that time was actually Nadal (who was injured and brooding in his tents after 12 months where he won 3 majors on 3 surfaces - all against Fed - plus the Olympic gold). Maybe one could grant Fed mid 2009 -10 as a sort of Floyd Patterson era - great ambassador for the sport, but you knew Liston was coming, it was just a matter of time. I'm on the fence either way. Other uncertainties: The 90s - Sampras, Agassi, and others is its own conversation entirely. The late 70s - I know lots of folks go back and forth about the true top dogs of 1976, 1977, etc. - I wonder how that plays out when measuring the big ticket instances where the contenders (Borg, Connors, Vilas, etc.) faced one another. 2003 - a host of contenders between Fed, Roddick, Hewitt, Agassi - no clear cut top dog/defining victory. Late 2012 - did Fed earn this mini-reign, or was it more of a volatile time (like parts of 2003) that was quieted with Djokovic's reassertion of supremacy in late fall? Anyway, just some stray thoughts.