13 French Open titles. That is level with the combined Grand Slam tally of Pete Sampras. 20 Grand Slam titles, which is level with Roger Federer. Olympic gold in both doubles and singles. Davis Cup success. Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles, which includes beating Federer and Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon and US Open at the peak of their powers. Is there anything left for Rafael Nadal to achieve? The sheer magnitude of the numbers, his domination of Federer and the way how he transformed himself from being the ‘Clay Court King’ to all-round dominance is what makes Nadal one of the greatest.
60 out of his 86 ATP titles are on clay, his 86-game winning streak in the surface might be unmatched in history but Nadal is much more than numbers. His peak came at a time when Federer was making every other Tennis player look mortal. Perhaps, this aspect clinches Nadal’s race in greatness ahead of Djokovic and Federer. Nadal has won all his titles by beating Federer on all three surfaces. It was Nadal who ended Federer’s Wimbledon dominance and it was Nadal who won the Australian Open by beating Federer. The 2008 final in Wimbledon is been dubbed as the greatest match ever played.
Nadal’s 24-16 record against Federer is enough for him to cement his place among greats. The Spaniard has defeated Djokovic in French and US Open titles, but he still trails 27-29 in head-to-head contests. In fact, the current era is split between Djokovic and Nadal, with the Serb dominating in Australia while Nadal continues to dominate the French Open unlike anyone before or probably after him.
Perhaps, the yardstick upon which there will be no doubting the greatness of Nadal is if he matches Laver and wins all the Grand Slams more than once. Currently, Nadal has won only the Australian Open once and he had a golden chance in 2021 but he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five tough sets in the semi-final. If he wins one more Grand Slam, he will overhaul Federer for the most Grand Slam titles.
Surprisingly, he is yet to win the year-ending ATP Championships, something which Federer and Djokovic have won five times. If he wins the year-ending championship and also guns for glory in the 2022 Australian Open, then he would have achieved his mantra for greatness. However, such is the tussle between Federer, Djokovic and Nadal that anyone can achieve greatness.
If Djokovic wins the French Open by beating Nadal and also secures the Olympic gold, he can pip Nadal to the post. If Nadal wins one more Slam, then he would have become the all-time leading Grand Slam winner. However, if Federer stages another great comeback and wins the French Open and the Olympic Gold in Tokyo, then Federer will once again be the bonafide great.
The records amassed by Nadal are all there for everyone to see. The sheer magnitude of 13 French Open titles, beating Federer on grass in the final of Wimbledon as well as denying Djokovic twice in the US Open make Nadal one of the ultimate players in Tennis. His dominance, along with the brilliance of Federer and Djokovic has made Tennis one of the best spectator sports in the last two decades. There will never be another player like Nadal.