The Reuters global sports blog
Nadal success sparks new GOAT debate
Rafael Nadal ticked off another box when he joined an exclusive group of men to win a career grand slam and in doing so re-ignited the debate about whether he or Roger Federer is the better player.
It also strengthens Nadal’s case in the ongoing discussion around the GOAT, or Greatest Of All Time.
Statistics show that Federer, with 16 grand slam titles and kit bag full of records, is still the greatest player to swing a racket but with the clock ticking ever louder on his career his haul now looks within reach of the 24-year-old Spaniard.
Nadal’s U.S. Open triumph on Monday against a gallant Novak Djokovic proved beyond doubt that his ferocious baseline game translates on any surface.
With his service regularly clocking 130mph these days when once it was perceived as a slight weakness, Nadal looked invincible, especially as the knee problems that blighted 2009 now appear to be under control.
Having beaten Federer in five sets on Saturday, depriving the Swiss of a seventh consecutive appearance in the U.S. Open final, Djokovic was best qualified to offer an opinion on a question that divides tennis fans into Camp Roger and Camp Rafa.
“He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever,” Djokovic said after his four-set defeat in which his own tennis often reached sublime heights.”Roger is definitely somebody who made history in this sport. He’s still playing as one of the best players in the world. On the other hand, you have Nadal who is just proving each day, each year that he’s getting better.
“He’s getting better each time you play him. He has all the capabilities, everything he needs, in order to be the biggest ever. He has lots of time to come if he physically holds on the next five, six, seven years.”
Whether or not Nadal goes on to surpass Federer’s achievements one thing is clear: the sport of tennis has been extremely fortunate to have two “once in a generation” players overlap, even more the pity that they could not have contested the final in Flushing Meadows, the only grand slam which is yet to witness one of their battles.
While their rivalry has elevated men’s tennis into the public domain more than any other since John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg’s all-too-short series of classics, a friendship and mutual respect has also endured.
Nadal’s post-match comments on Monday still smacked of a player still slightly in awe of Federer’s stature in the game.
“The titles say he’s much better than me, so that’s true at the moment,” Nadal said. “I think it will be true all my life.”
For the purists who still purr at the feline ease with which 29-year-old Federer moves around the court and the almost effortless beauty of his tennis shots, the sheer brute force and violence of Nadal’s game will never quite match up.
The reality is that Nadal has reached nine grand slam titles one year earlier than Federer who was 25 when he achieved that feat at the 2006 U.S. Open.
Nadal has also achieved the career grand slam three years ahead of the Swiss who completed the set at last year’s French Open and, barring injuries, the road ahead looks clear for the unassuming Spaniard to carve one his razor-edged forehands through the tennis record books.
PHOTO: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates with his trophy after his victory against Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, September 13, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque