Earlier this month, at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal continued to make history. In defeating the world number 1 Novak Djokovic in the French Open final, the Spaniard not only made it a record 13 wins in the tennis major, but he levelled Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles. It was a dominant display from the King of Clay, who beat his rival in straight sets 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to make it a fourth consecutive title win in the famous Parisian tournament.
In fact, Nadal has never been beaten on the clay courts of Roland Garros in the final – and he’s only failed to reach the final on three occasions since his first title success in 2005. Despite the season coming to a close now that we’ve seen the final Slam of the year played out, there’s still the Paris Masters and ATP Finals, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Nadal’s name will crop up in the 2020 tennis odds.
But still, there’s a debate regarding the tennis men’s singles greatest of all-time. Let’s take a look at some of the factors to consider.
Grand Slam titles
Of course, in winning the French Open, Nadal equalled Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, the most of all time and not just the Open Era. With the Swiss Maestro failing to win a major tournament in two years, his accolades have spanned over 17 years (2003-present). Nadal too, has won the same number of Grand Slams, but in slightly shorter time period of 15 years (2005-2020).
But it’s not until you look at the individual breakdown of each title. In recently winning his 13th French Open, Nadal’s success on clay at Roland Garros accounts for 65% of his Grand Slam titles, with just one win at the Australian Open, two victories at Wimbledon and four US Open triumphs. When you compare that with Federer, despite him winning just once in Paris, his other titles are more evenly spread – with five US Opens, 6 Australian Opens and eight Wimbledon titles. In fact, his success at SW9 and Flushing Meadows combined, accounts for 65% of his Grand Slams.
So, while Nadal is rightly the King of Clay, Feds’ is consistently as good on hard courts as he is on grass.
Another factor to consider is the ATP World Rankings. As things stand, neither player is the world number 1 – that sits with Serbian, Novak Djokovic, and runner-up at the French Open. Nadal remains in second place, with Federer slightly further down in fourth – not bad, considering he was absent from both the US Open and French Open this year.
Federer was first world number 1 in February 2004 and has since sat at the top of the rankings a total of six times. However, it’s all about longevity and the Swiss star holds the record for both the most total weeks at number 1 (310) and the most consecutive weeks at number 1 (237). Nadal on the other hand has been number 1 on eight occasions, for a total of 209 weeks, while his longest run at the top was just 56 days. And both players have been the year-end number 1 five times.
Although Nadal may have come out on top at Roland Garros, it’s surely a debate that still hasn’t been settled – and it won’t be until all of the ‘big three’ of tennis have retired that as fans, we can sit back and take stock of their achievements the last couple of decades.