Edmonton - September 11, 2013 - Heading into the 2013 ATP Season many felt we had likely seen the end of the old Rafa Nadal.
After being forced off the court for seven months with yet another knee problem, it was rather easy to understand why.
At twenty-six years of age, Nadal had arguably put his body through a pounding like no player before him.
His style of play coupled with his unwillingness to give up on almost any ball, had led to the man from Manacor to start breaking down physically.
While he withdrew from Wimbledon in 2009 with tendinitis in both his knees, the Spaniard managed to heal up just enough to take part in that summer’s US Open. Despite playing on two bad legs and with an abdominal muscle injury he suffered early in the tournament, Nadal reached the semi-finals but was easily brushed aside by Juan Martin Del Potro.
At the time, Rafa looked nothing like the player he once did but to his credit, he bounced back and found a way to win the final three majors of 2010. Expecting him to pull off a similar feat, three years later, seemed to be asking a little much…even for Rafa Nadal.
Outside of his first round hiccup against Steve Darcis during the first round of Wimbledon, Nadal has put together one of the finest comebacks in recent memory. With his win over Novak Djokovic in Monday’s US Open Final, he now sits with a 60-3 record for 2013, including an astonishing 22-0 mark on hard courts. This coming from the so-called “King of Clay”.
He has ten titles under his belt for the year and has once again reclaimed his spot atop the tennis world. As amazing as his turnaround has been, the time frame in which it has taken place is almost laughable. However, when it comes to Nadal, almost anything is possible.
With his eighth French Open and second US Open crowns added to the books, the Spaniard now sits with 13 career Grand Slam titles, just one shy of Pete Sampras and only four back of Roger Federer. For so many years, Federer was looked upon as being the greatest player of all-time but after the year Rafa has just put together, that is simply no longer the case.
As things currently sit, Federer does have a 17-7 career record in Grand Slam Finals. Now from a numbers standpoint, they are slightly better than his counterpart’s 13-5 mark but when you take into consideration the level of completion in those finals, as well as their head-to-head record, it is almost impossible to give the Swiss Maestro the edge.
Grand Slam Finals Results
Federer: (7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open, 4 Australian Open, 1 French Open)
(4-0 vs Roddick ,3-0 vs Murray, 2-6 vs Nadal, 1-0 vs Djokovic, 1-0 vs Philippoussis, 1-0 vs Safin, 1-0 vs Hewitt, 1-0 vs Agassi, 1-0 vs Baghdatis, 1-0 vs Gonzalez, 1-0 vs Soderling, o-1 vs Del Potro)
Nadal: (8 French Open, 2 Wimbledon, 2 US Open, 1 Australian Open)
(6-2 vs Federer, 3-3 vs Djokovic, 1-0 vs Berdych, 1-0 vs Ferrer, 1-0 vs Puerta , 1-0 vs Soderling)
Without question, Nadal has earned his keep against far stiffer competition. In fact, outside of his 2010 French Open & Wimbledon triumphs Rafa faced at least one, if not both, Federer or Djokovic in every other one of his runs to the final. Think about that for a moment. In sixteen of eighteen trips to a Grand Slam Final, he has to deal with two of the finest players two have ever graced a tennis court.
In Federer’s defence, it is no fault of his own that many of his earlier championships came against less than stellar competition. After all, you can only go up against whatever player ends up being on the other side of the net. That said, when we are talking about the best of the best, level of competition plays a bigger part of the equation…especially when one has dominated the other so overwhelmingly in head-to-head battle.
Barring any lingering health issues, it appears as though it will only be a matter of time before Rafa Nadal ultimately overtakes Roger Federer as the “King of the Slams”. While Federer unquestionably possesses the more pleasing all around game to watch, at the end of the day it comes down to winning matches.
In my mind, Nadal has already done enough to lay claim to being the “Greatest Tennis Player of All-Time”. Some might suggest that statement as being a tad premature but I would beg to differ. At this stage of the game, it is no longer even a discussion.