September 15th, 2010
08:42 AM ET

Will modest Nadal be the best ever?

Can Rafael Nadal overhaul Roger Federer and become the greatest ever?
Can Rafael Nadal overhaul Roger Federer and become the greatest ever?

If you had to describe Rafael Nadal’s tennis in one word, what would it be? Mine would be “relentless.”

Off the court though, the word I’d use, would have to be “modest.” Here we have a champion who, though ranked number one by a land-slide, refutes the fact that he’s the best player in the world.

And rightly so. I’ll get to that in just a moment. First let’s consider his service grip-change, which he decided on two days before the U.S. Open began!

Athletes, for the most part, hate change, especially so close to a tournament, because when pressure situations arise, as they are apt to do in tennis, technique that’s not familiar usually breaks down.

That’s the reason Pete Sampras never made a change before the French Open. He says he now regrets not using a larger-headed racket in order to try and conquer the Roland Garros clay. He of course didn’t win in Paris and so failed to complete the career grand-slam.

Rafa is unusual. He is happy to make those changes – for better or for worse. In his press conference following his semifinal win over Mikhail Youzny at the Open, he said he didn’t only practice to improve, but also to learn. And he’s learning and progressing all the time. This year he’s won slams on clay, grass and hard-court!

Before the New York final against Novak Djokovic, the 24-year-old Spaniard had only been broken twice. No wonder he hadn’t lost a set. The Serb managed to break him three times in the championship match, but Nadal’s serve held up on the big points and that was a big factor in him claiming the one major he’d never won.

So now he’s joined the select few of those to complete the career grand slam.

Roger Federer was the last to do it after claiming the 2009 French Open. That was one of his 16 grand-slam titles – a record, but with the younger Spaniard doing so well right now, it’s almost like the Swiss is an after thought.

Federer has said he wants to win 20 grand-slams before he retires and I believe he’ll win at least two more. Nadal refuses to set a target – but needs to claim at least seven more slams, in my mind, to truly earn the title of the “best ever.”

We know he’s mentally strong enough to do it – the question is will his body hold up? Unlike Federer, he puts an awful lot into each and every point and in the past he’s struggled physically.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he starts well next year but then tails off. Long-term it might be the best thing for him!

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Neo

    Typical americans. If you win their US CUP (several times) you must be the best player ever.

    Of course Roger Federer is the BEST EVER EVER!

    September 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  2. max

    Rafa is My wonderfull

    September 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  3. zambie

    Is this supposed to be a professionally written article? It seems more like an amateur blog to me – where is the analytical reasoning, or indepth coverage of this subject, or insight?

    September 15, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  4. WAS

    Patience people. Young Toro is moving along nicely, but the next 5 years will tell. There are 3 levels of greatness: 1-5 slams, 6-10 slams and 11 plus slams. GOAT candidates necessarily come from the top tier and all of the following merit consideration: Laver, Borg, Sampras, Emerson and, of course, Federer. Roger is nearing the end of his run and we can only hope that he starts charging the net relentlessly, otherwise he will struggle to get to 18. His fate now rests in his willingness to listen to Paul Annacone and accept that staying back with these young fellows is no longer the best option, especially at Flushing Meadow.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  5. nuria

    He is not the best but he will be. In Spain we love him not only because he is a great player but also he is a good person too. I wish you the best Rafa!!! you deserve it.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  6. Anthonie

    Rafa shows perfection in tennis, added with perfection as a human being, he's the young gentleman and the best possible promotion for tennis. Rafa will live forever in our minds, even in the 22th century people will still remeber Rafael Nadal! Congrats Rafa!!


    September 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  7. pixenees

    Rafa, put so much into each point played, its insane, That's why I love watching him, OK, with a few heart tablets ready. But the way he improved his serve so short before the Open, is awesome, and not something anybody can do.

    Rafa is not nearly the same as Fedex, Rafa is humble, polite and a all round good innocent person.

    Fedex on the other hand, can be mean, I have seen him shouting at Novak's parents some time back at RG, (OK the 2 dont like each other) but Roger can do with a bit humality, he is full of himself.

    Give me Rafa anyday. Beautiful from inside and out. Vamos from South Africa.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  8. John Walker

    Both Nadal and Federer are truly great players, but I believe Nadal is far superior to Federer. Federer is a great player because he is played in an era when the world hadn't produced great players.

    Nadal has certainly shown Federer who is boss, and would have been a serious threat to great players like Sampras, Lendl, Agassi, etc.,had he played in their era.

    I am not saying this because I am an American. I am stating this because Sampras, Becker, Agassi, Edberg, are all great players and had to contend amongst each other, as well as other top contenders. McEnroe had to contend with Bjorg, Lendl, Wilander, and other top players.

    Federer is good but highly over rated. If you think Baghdatis, Tsonga, Soderling, Roddick, and Gonzalez are great contenders, then you are nuts.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  9. Gabs

    Rafa is a great tennis player, a humble person and thats you best quality. I wish you only the best. Se te quiere Rafa, desde Panamá.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  10. Alex Peter

    Isn't it annoying to ask about best ever regarding tennis and plainly wrong? Tennis is ever growing, and who will be the best in 10 years will be probably best ever, because he or she will play better than all his or her predecessors, just because tennis will be better, stronger, more precise. Don't forget that Martina Navratilova played with a wooden racket. Now, if you say Federer is one of the best because he has the most titles, well maybe others have not been that good during his reign.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  11. Tito

    Rafa it is not the best of the history but he is the number one at present.
    Rafa is an example not only for Spaniards but everybody.
    Thank you very much Rafa!!
    We love you

    September 15, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  12. Atul

    When did trying hard for every point make you not the best player! Rafa won in a domineering way and seems to be in great physical shape doing it. Vamos Rafa!

    September 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  13. Suziii

    If you win Wimbledon you're destined to be the Best. Which Federer has done many times.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  14. pixenees

    @John Walker, I could not have put it better, but with English not being my 1st language, I do battle sometimes to find the right words.

    Very well written comment by you. Great. Thanks

    September 15, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  15. Padrotti

    Both Rafa And Roger Are Great Players!

    It is absurd to compare them both at this time, when one is younger than the other. Wait until both leave the game and them we can match the numbers. Rafa has a long way to go and Fed has got much less time, can Rafa stay on top as Fed did? Can he win more Slams than Fed? Will he be injury free as Fed is until now?? We need to wait!

    One thing is for certain, if someone respects Fed in the game, is Rafa, not just because of his accomplishments but because he is humble as well! Let's not forget what Fed has done for the game!

    Stop creating non-sense comparisons now, even Rafa doesn't like to be compraed to Fed because it is just not right at this moment!
    Instead of putting pleayers down, Let's hope that Fed keeps it up and keeps winning and as well as for Rafa. It's what's best for the game!

    Thank You!

    September 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  16. Sab

    Congratulations Rafael to get the 4 grand slams. That is truly great, you are amazing, I do congratulate your from my heart for the US Open. 🙂 I wish you more more record ahead. 🙂 Again Congratulations. 🙂

    September 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  17. mike

    rafa at the moment is the best player in the world winning the US open is just a great accomplishment, its to early to say that his the best but definite one of the best hope he will be free of injuries in the coming years congratz RAFA.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  18. Scott

    I grew up watching Conners, Bjorg, Lendl and McEnroe but what I saw during this US Open was somehow beyond tennis. Nadal is the best I've ever seen and his humility makes him a true sportsman.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  19. Lulu

    Roger can learn a bit of humility from Rafa. I used to be a huge Roger fan and now I am terribly disappointed at many of the interviews in which he feels a need to "intimidate emotionally" his opponents. Hands down, Rafa does not feel a need to stoop to such pathetic proportions.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  20. Iri

    Not even if Rafa surpasses Federer on tournaments accomplished, will he ever be better. Rog's style and grace on court are unmatchable. Where I think he has opportunities to improve, will be his humbleness...definitely Rog needs to conquer his bad temper whenever he losses. But when it comes to mental power, physical resistance, style (one of the best backhands EVER)... The Goat will always be the KING of Tennis....!!!!!

    September 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  21. gloria

    Vamos Rafa!!!!!!!!! Nadal is a great player not only great but very humble, polite and well mannered. When you compare Federer to Nadal, Nadal is still the best in terms of character and humility. Federer is full of himself too much. RAFA is my idol!!!!!!! go go go Rafa we love you.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  22. teyob

    rafa you are the best from the rest... the philippines love your game and your character on and off the court... mabuhay ka!

    September 16, 2010 at 7:01 am | Reply
  23. DavidW

    As a huge Nadal fan, I have to too agree with Rafa. Roger is the best ever to play the game and a wizzard with his wand. Rafa has a chance to be the best ever, but he must win 16 Slams which if his knees can hold out. Well done Rafa !!!

    September 16, 2010 at 8:33 am | Reply
  24. Majeed Balogun

    Rafa is young, humble, hardworking, athletic and he is to Tenis what Arsenal is to football: good entertainer who gives u value for your money. At 24, he will overtake Rogers by the time he clocks 29.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  25. alehandro

    It's hard to compare stars from different eras because the size and physical conditioning of the players and the technology available is so vastly different than it was back in the day. What, for example, would Jimmy Connors have done using 21st century racket technology? How much better would John McEnroe have been if he'd been as fit as Nadal or Murray? What more might Borg have achieved on the
    hi-tech surfaces of today? Comparing Nadal and Federer is also a bit tough. They are contemporaries but they're overlapping contempories due to the difference in age. I feel Nadal's reaching his peak as Federer is in decline. Had they both been at their peak at the same time drawing comparisons would have been more valid. I think tennis fans should just be grateful that somone is picking up the Federer mantle because, aside from Nadal, there is no superstar on the men's tour to get really excited about.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  26. Marco Penalba

    Well, I think that Rafa deserves his number one; however, he has to win some more grand slam titles to be considered the greatest tennis player. Rafa is terrific and his opponents will have to do something extraordinary to bit him. Vamos Rafa!!

    September 17, 2010 at 12:23 am | Reply
  27. Jason

    I think Rafa might just fall short of being the best ever. Not so sure if he can consistently deiver on the hard court Grand Slams (US and Australian Open). Yes, he's still young and with many years of tennis to come. However, to be the best ever is a big statement and it is very dependent on how Rafa's knees can hold up during the prime of his career.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:05 am | Reply
  28. suiter

    Am passionate about tennis.I would not compare Rafa 2 Rooger just yet. Even Rafa knows and is humble about. Rafa has what it takes to "the Man" in tennis but until then give to Roger. He is such beauty to watch.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  29. Ifeanyi

    I believe Nadal will achieve even more in the future...

    September 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  30. olisa

    Nadal is the man of the moment i luv ur style of play keep it up.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  31. ricky

    roger federer is the best tennis player in the world~~

    September 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  32. Francesca

    Whilst Rafa is a good player when he is on form it is obvious that the best tennis player in the World is Roger Federer – his greatness is not only in tennis but all the other attributes 6 languages, plays many sports including football (EnglishA), golf, has created many schools – not talkd about much – through his Foundation in South Africa – is polite, kind, courteous and try watching his behaviour with ball girls/boys remember he was one as well.

    October 10, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  33. victor imoh

    Yes cold be the best

    October 13, 2010 at 5:45 am | Reply
  34. Karlo

    Been a fan of Rafa since before his first grand slam win.

    A great time for tennis, Rafa falls in a small percentage of high profile really likeable professional athletes. It is great to have such a person as a role model for my kids, there are so few around.

    All the best Rafa, whether you win 9 or 20 Grand Slams, you're an inspiration.

    October 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  35. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Rafael Nadal has age on his side. If he keeps fit one does not see what will prevent him from being the best ever. Good luck to the young Spaniard.

    October 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  36. sujith

    Hello All..

    Rafa is definitely one among the greatest to have ever played the game and my favourite player.

    If you want to go by numbers, I dont think he would go beyond Federer's slam count due to fitness reasons. He needs to be more selective with the tournaments he participates in esp the ATP tournaments in order to prolong is career and not disappoint fans like us all over the globe.

    Vamos Rafa! Watch out for Andy Murray in the semis in London :).

    November 26, 2010 at 10:07 am | Reply

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