The Reuters global sports blog
Nadal can beat Federer’s grand slam mark
If there was any doubt before, there is now no question that Rafa Nadal can and most probably will better Roger Federer’s record of 16 grand slam titles following the Spaniard’s French Open success over the Swiss.
Sunday’s 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1 victory for his record-equalling sixth Roland Garros crown and his 10th grand slam title overall underlined why Nadal just will not lie down even when the crowd and his own initial form are against him.
Nadal endured his first five-set match on the Paris clay in the first round but his play gradually improved over the fortnight so that when he came up against Federer and his vocal fans in the final, the world number one was ready to flourish.
He slipped 5-2 down in the first set but roared back and dealt with a 10-minute rain interruption to down what had been a resurgent Federer even on his least favorite clay surface.
Wimbledon starts in just two weeks and even though Novak Djokovic is a contender after his 41-match winning streak before being halted by Federer in the last four of the French, another Rafa-Roger final is equally likely.
“After winning a title like this, you go there with a different attitude, with very positive confidence,” Nadal told reporters.
“So for me, winning here makes me play Queen’s and Wimbledon with less pressure.”
At 25, the only realistic blocks to Nadal reaching 16 grand slams are injury, loss of confidence and hunger or Federer racking up many more major titles of his own.
With Nadal in his way, though, the 29-year-old Swiss is running out of time to greatly increase his sum and the Spaniard is set to play on for a few more years once fellow great Federer retires.
However, Federer did look revitalised during the tournament despite not winning a grand slam since the Australian Open in 2010 and there is still huge fight in the maestro yet.
“For me, of course it’s a bit disappointing, but it was a good tournament for me as well. I’ll focus on Wimbledon. This is the moment when I can do good things. I’m on the right tracks,” he said before acknowledging Nadal’s threat to his record.
“Ten grand slams is a lot. He knows this, I know this, everybody knows this.”
Injury is one risk lurking in the shadows which Nadal can never ignore and he must be careful not to shorten his career by playing too many tournaments in a row as some pundits have accused him of already this year.
His all-action style and way he powers his whole body into his shots at every moment is a big strain on his knees and his 2009 defeat by Robin Soderling, his only loss at Roland Garros in seven years, was partly due to injury.
If being labeled the best claycourt player ever breeds self-assurance, Nadal was not feeling it at the start of the tournament he dominates so heavily.
“I think during this tournament I was probably a bit more anxious, at least more anxious than I should have been and more anxious than usual,” the Mallorcan said.
This sort of problem has eaten away at great champions in the past when seemingly in their prime.
Most golf commentators expected Tiger Woods to easily overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors but now the American is stuck on 14 and his achievement is by no means certain.
Nadal’s game has been called one-dimensional but he has already won a career grand slam and although he thrives on clay his grasscourt play at Wimbledon just gets better and better.
He is also highly likely to pick up more Australian and U.S. Opens but the accomplishments of Federer still loom large.
“I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m among the best. That’s true,” Nadal murmured