One of the hottest debates in tennis concerns this question. Is Rafael Nadal the best player to have honed the game of tennis? Critics and tennis greats have always tended to favor Roger Federer, albeit reluctantly, on the few occasions they have taken a stand. The argument that has lent the most credence has been Federer’s absolute hegemony over the game over a number of years and also, to a lesser extent his image and style of play- that tends to appeals to a tennis connoisseur. However, his star is on the wane and a closer look will reveal that 12 out of 17 grand slams won by him have come before 2008, which is when Nadal finally silenced his critics by winning the Wimbledon and Novak Djokovic came out all guns blazing to win the Australian Open to lead to one of the most competitive times in men’s tennis.
Now, in the afterglow, or aftermath (depending on whose side you are on ;-) ) of Nadal’s ninth win at the Roland Garros and Andre Agassi’s recent admission that he does believe Nadal to be the greatest, here are a few reasons why Nadal deserves to be the crowned the best ever to have played the game-
1) Nadal is the only tennis player to have won at least one Grand Slam title in a year for 10 consecutive years. He also remains the only player to have won at least one Masters Title for 10 consecutive years.
2) He is also the youngest in the Open Era to have completed a Career Grand Slam- at the age of 24.
3) Nadal has a favourable head-to-head record against the other three of the ‘Big Four’. He leads 23-10 against Federer, 23-19 against Djokovic and 15-5 against Murray.
4) It is an incontrovertible truth that Nadal is the greatest clay-court player of all time. He has now won nine titles at the Roland Garros, including 5 consecutive ones (2010-2014), breaking Bjorn Borg’s record of 4 consecutive titles.
5) The largest concern about Nadal’s intensely physical style of play has been the longevity of his form and career. However, Nadal has amassed 14 Grand slam titles since winning his first one in 2005, and leads the tally, second only to Federer’s total of 17. Moreover, Nadal only recently turned 28, which means that he still has a lot of tennis left in him. While injuries have troubled him, more than most of his contemporaries, he has shown very little signs of continued fatigue or loss of form.
6) Nadal was dismissed as a clay-court specialist early on in his career, however, he has proved his mettle across all the surfaces-grass, clay and hard courts. In fact, it seems hypocritical to argue for Federer’s cause using this argument since Federer himself has only one Grand Slam on clay, which came when Nadal was already out of the draw. Nadal, on the other hand has defeated the very best and the favourites to capture his titles on grass and hard courts, including the historic win against Federer at Wimbledon in 2008, at a time when Federer reigned over the grass courts.
Nadal is touted to surpass Federer’s Grand Slam tally in the next couple of years. Perhaps that will finally cement his place in the tennis world as the best ever and negate the lingering doubts and shadows in his detractors’ minds.