Nadal can surpass Federer as the GOAT
If you needed evidence prior to last night’s French Open Final that the greatest era of male tennis is far from over, you shouldn’t anymore.
Rafael Nadal raced to his eleventh slam title at Roland Garros with a straight sets demolition of Austria’s Dominic Thiem. The 32 year old was at his blistering best in Paris and showed little to no signs of the hip injury that saw him retire from his Australian Open Quarter Final against Marin Čilić in January.
Thiem was outclassed at every turn and appeared to be no match for Nadal, but then again, who is? The only players that have posed a consistent threat to Nadal’s title chances over the last fifteen or so years are Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, but not even the Swiss Maestro or the Joker have been able to dislodge the King of Clay on his favourite surface – clay, obviously.
In 87 pro matches at Roland Garros Nadal has only lost twice. Let that sink in for a moment. The greatest tennis player of all time at the moment of writing, Federer, has never beaten his arch nemesis at the French. Rafa has the edge over Federer at more than one Grand Slam, though.
Of the pair’s 12 slam meetings, Nadal has won nine and leads 6-3 in slam finals. He leads Federer 5-0 at the French and 3-1 at the Australian Open, while Federer has a slight lead at Wimbledon, 2-1. Interestingly, the pair are yet to face each other at the US Open. It’s also worth mentioning that Nadal has an olympic gold medal and Federer does not.
Nadal’s victory last night means the past six Grand Slam titles have been won by either Nadal or Federer with the next generation of players finding it hard to break the veterans’ stranglehold on the game.
But it signals slightly more than that. It signals to tennis fans that our favourite arbitrary pub conversation – who is the greatest male tennis player of all time? – is not yet put to bed. In fact, if Nadal can equal or surpass Roger’s Grand Slam title number (17-20) then he may have a very strong claim as the greatest player in the sport’s history.
Federer fans don’t necessarily want to hear this, but here are the facts: Nadal is four years younger than Federer, he is currently ranked higher in the world rankings (although they are first and second respectively), Nadal currently has a higher win percentage (82.84% – 82.01%), so long as he stays fit he will very likely win another French Open or two and when it comes to the other slams Nadal has the statistical edge as discussed above.
All of this means very little in the real world and predictions are both speculative and ultimately pointless. However, it’s fun to think that the conversation, as arbitrary and superfluous as it may seem, has not yet taken its final breath. It’s been a privilege to watch this great rivalry develop and, after well over a decade, I’m still on the edge of my couch.