Rise to the Top: Can Rafael Nadal Become the Greatest Tennis Player Ever?

Dominic Pembroke
Dominic Pembroke
Dominic Pembroke
Contributor

After sealing his 16th career grand slam title at the US Open last weekend Rafael Nadal has put himself firmly into the greatest of all time (GOAT) argument against the one and only Roger Federer.

With an emphatic victory over America’s own Kevin Anderson in Flushing Meadows on Sunday, the Spaniard racked up his 16th career grand slam title. Extending his status at the top over fellow legend Pete Sampras’ 14 titles, second only to the imperious Federer.

Federer sits atop of the all-time tree with his 19 career grand slam haul and is widely, and rightly, hailed as the greatest player to have graced the court. The Swiss legend’s last US Open title came in 2008 besting Britain’s own Andy Murray in straight sets, in what was one of his many immaculate displays.

Both players have had resurgent years despite previous indications that both were possibly coming towards the end of their time in the spotlight. Both have played outstanding tennis this year with all four majors split between the two, turning the clock back, a resurgence to form.

The question these performances raise however is if Nadal was to catch Federer’s title total and surpass it, would it make him the greatest player that’s ever lived?

What comes to mind when thinking of this scenario is another battle of the best, that being Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi in the realms of football. Both are seen to be the pinnacle of the sport, much like Feds and Nadal; both are often compared against each other due to their unmatchable quality and ultimately the battle can’t be decided.

The same could be said when looking at the likes of the tennis duo as they have continued to dominate and win titles throughout their careers.

Federer is the magician who makes tennis look as effortless and easy as it to watch it at home on the sofa, as does Messi when he glides, ball floating at his feet, to effortlessly impose himself on any football match whoever the opposition may be. Same with Federer, and that’s the comparison.

You could similarly look at Nadal and Ronaldo, like the others highly skilled with little other able to match. Both seem to really battle and work hard for what they have and what they achieve, giving the impression that they have put so much effort and dedication into what they are now.

Not to say that Argentine footballer and the Swiss tennis player don’t work at their game, no way they wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t. It just seems as though they can mesmerize and captivate audiences who go to watch them with an almost superhuman presence. Ronaldo and Nadal make you appreciate how incredibly hard they work and how well it pays off for them on the pitch and court respectively.

Looking at the statistics since their very first encounter in Miami in 2004 things do swing the Spaniard’s way with 23 wins over Federer’s 14 between the famous pair. Nadal is well known as the king of clay, with Federer ousted 13 times in 15 meetings on clay. When it comes to the meetings between the duo things certainly point to Nadal having the better of the two, but does that make him the potential GOAT?

As with any argument about the greatest of all time in any sport, there will be so many opinions and there will be so many different reasons why. If Nadal was to surpass Federer’s title haul in the next couple of years for me it wouldn’t make him the GOAT. He doesn’t carry the same court presence for me as Federer does. The Swiss man makes me sit silent, in awe of his easy-to-watch displays and the humility he carries himself with on and off the court. He is a man you admire to be, not just a player and that is what gives him the edge over Nadal.

Nadal would still see venues sell out for years to come but the Spaniard is an easier to dislike character – several calls made alleging his use of performance enhancing substances spanning his career– much like Ronaldo is equally loved and hated in football circles. There is one undeniable fact despite the argument, Rafa is a certain legend of the sport and one of the top players who has ever been. That is without a doubt.