Will Rafa overtake Roger as the Greatest Ever?
Upon winning the US Open, Nadal has won 16 majors compared with Roger’s 19.
Rafa, 31, is five years younger. If Roger, 36, peaked at Wimbledon, and never wins another major, can Rafa catch him?
One scenario: Rafa wins major number 17 at Roland Garros in Paris next year. He (or somebody else) beats an aging Federer next year in Melbourne, London and New York. Even if Rafa doesn’t win those events, he can tally number 18 at Roland Garros in Paris in 2019, when he’s 33 years old. After that, he would need only one more slam to equal Roger’s 19. He could likely do that in Paris 2020 when he’s 34 years old. He might do that even sooner in Melbourne, London or New York.
Based on his current level of play and what he calls “right determination”, Rafa seems more likely to win at least three more slams than not. His serve, backhand and volleying are better than ever, and he’s faster and apparently more fit than Federer or almost anybody else on tour.
If he’s healthy, nobody can touch him on clay. Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev might overtake Rafa someday, but that day seems far away. If Rafa, like Roger, is still playing at age 36, this means he has five more chances to win Roland Garros, plus five opportunities at each other major.
If Rafa ends up winning 20 slams to 19 by Roger, it will be hard for Federer fans to claim Roger is the greatest.
Many argue that the majestic Federer is a better player than Nadal, regardless of titles.
But the head-to-head speaks volumes. It’s currently 23-14 in favor of Rafa, and a resurgent Rafa will likely win future matches as Roger becomes 37, 38 or 39 years old.
More than other surfaces, clay exposes flaws in games of players who can serve out of trouble on grass or hardcourt. Federer grew up playing on clay, but he is 2-13 on clay versus Nadal, and never beat him at Roland Garros. Perhaps fearing Nadal’s mastery, Federer skipped the entire 2017 season on clay. How can someone claim superiority over a player if they won’t enter tournaments on his favorite surface?
Federer is only 10-9 over Nadal on hardcourt and 2-1 on grass. In the 2008 Wimbledon final, the greatest match of all time, the winner was Rafa, not Roger.
Federer won 8 of his slams at Wimbledon; Rafa has won only 2. Though the All-England club is the most hallowed ground in the sport, Wimbledon is only one of a handful of grass events in a sport normally played on clay (especially in Europe) or hardcourt (especially in America).
In other words, Nadal already has 14 slams to Roger’s 11 on the two surfaces hosting more than 90 percent of the world’s competitions.
Rafa also endured a more challenging road to his slam titles than Roger.
Pete Sampras, perhaps foreseeing the rise of Roger (who beat him at Wimbledon in 2001), retired at age 31 before Federer won his first slam in 2003. Early in his career, Federer at slams only had to beat Mark Philippoussis, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez.
In most cases, Rafa had to beat three of the greatest ever players (Federer, Djokovic and Murray) to win his titles. He came onto the scene when Federer was already considered the greatest ever, and took titles away from Roger, Novak and Andy.
Rafa is the most likely candidate to take advantage of any weakening by Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka. Rafa has already gone through down time due to injuries, and he now looks healthier than ever.
Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov and other next generation players might still be a few years away from consistently dominating the tour. Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have been riddled with injuries, and Grigor Dimitrov and Gael Monfils still haven’t gone beyond a semi in a slam.
All of this opens up the field for Rafa, and he appears ready to take it.
Will Rafa end his career as the greatest player of all time? Much depends on Roger and another rival who has 12 slams — Novak Djokovic.
(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media, all rights reserved)