‘Hard court is his weakest surface’, people said. ‘With a dodgy knee how much more can he play?’ – others wondered. After the first round exit at Wimbledon, people even said that he remains a force only on clay. These doubting Thomases did a big dis-service to Djokovic and co – a fired up Nadal slammed performance after performance on their faces and won the US Open on a canter. He didn’t even need the Knee straps!
It seemed that the others were present, just to make up the numbers and applaud his greatness.
Rafa was in the zone for an entire Hard Court season, unbeaten and picking up all major titles along the way. Weakness? Really? Rafa is laughing all the way not only to the bank but to the doorsteps of sporting immortality. Of course he was already one of the greatest ever that played the game, but this performance puts him at least as the first among equals if not the undisputed king.
Legends like John McEnroe have come out and said that he could be the greatest tennis player ever. He finds Rafa’s desire to win , right from an early age freakish. Boris Becker too has said that the Spaniard will catch up with Federer on the Grand Slam count sooner than later.
So what has changed with this one Grand Slam win? At 12 Grand Slams, Federer’s 17 was looking distant, at 13 it looks a certainty. The rebound by Nadal this year after a major knee injury , has added superhero dimensions to his character and rightly so. In the only match he was stretched a bit, the US Open finals – where for a set and half Djokovic seemed in control- he found a way back through unbelievable defensive play, forcing Djokovic to go for more and commit unforced errors. This tenaciousness and ability to keep coming at you every point of the match sets him apart. It doesn’t matter if you are 40-0 up on your serve, Rafa will still want to win the next point.
No one can hit winners from defensive positions as Rafa can. And once on the ascendancy, no one can dent your pride worse than Nadal can. In such situations, he is like a hurricane, destruction is inevitable only the extent of damage varies. He has moved the likes of Roger Federer to tears, Novak to despair, Ferrer to submission and wannabes like Gasquet to resignation. He has winning records against all of the Top Ten players , 22-16 against the Djoker and 21-10 against Federer. Is this really competition?
I wonder with these sorts of records, if he is a bit tongue in cheek, when he says that he considers Roger to be the one player that is better than him or when he says that Novak is surely one of the best players ever. In one of his early French Open wins when Djokovic was starting to rise and the media had hyped him up before a clash with Nadal to be the future No1 ( Nadal had not yet become number 1 then), Nadal commented something along the lines – “It’s a tough match, after all Novak is a future world No 1.” And Rafa just crushed him in the match.
I interpreted the comment as ” How dare you project him a future No 1 when I haven’t got there yet” Jokes apart, he has always been humble and the good guy on and off the court, showing exemplary sportsmanship – the perfect role model.
I must confess I am a Federer fan and will always be. But Nadal with this performance has put doubts into my head , as he unfailingly does with his opponents, about who the better player is. I have started to enjoy Nadal’s frenetic retrieving, his monstorous forehand, the unbelievable top spin and now he has a big serve and is volleying like McEnroe! (well not quite but you get my drift). So is there anything he cannot do? He is the most dominant player of his generation. He will definitely complete a second career slam at some time, which no one else is even close to doing. If injuries and Djokovic had not held him up for a couple of years, he would already be past Federer in number of Grand Slams by now.
So while I still enjoy watching the silken touch and grace of Federer more, I have to admit Nadal has better credentials for being the best ever among players since the 80s. Rod “the Rocket” Laver with his two proper Grand Slams, at this point,still has a slight edge to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) but might not be so by the time Nadal finshes up!