September 15, 2010
It always seems that no matter the era in tennis, there is always a second banana around to give the top player some headaches. Unlike previous generations, however, it's becoming increasingly hard to pick out which will go down as the better tennis player when it is all said and done, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
For now it would be Federer, who holds the record for Grand Slam wins with 16, but with Nadal's win on Monday at the U.S. Open, it seems that the 24-year-old Spaniard is creeping up the record books. With his ability to dominate on clay and his recent success on hard courts, could Nadal catch Federer's 16 Grand Slams before his career completes?
Someone looking at the numbers might answer with a very quick "yes." Nadal is only 24 and has won nine slams. That's more than Federer had at this point in his career, and it seems that Rafa is just learning how to win on some of these different surfaces as he continues to up his service speed and make some of his passing shots nearly unhittable.
Also, and it might sound strange to say this with Federer still looming at Grand Slams, but like Roger during his greatest runs, there isn't really anyone that really can match up to Nadal's skill right now. Sure, Federer is still a great player, but he isn't the same guy he was two years ago, and Novak Djokovic, while talented in his own right, doesn't seem to be the type of player to truly challenge Nadal in a big match. That leaves us with a handful of players that might be able to take down Rafa if they're playing well and he has a bad day, but truthfully he should breeze through any and all the other opponents.
The flip side to this argument is the looming knee issue with Nadal. Sure, he's 24, but he seems to be fitted with knees from someone in their 40s, and it will continue to be a problem as his career trudges forward. Another injury here or there and he could miss a couple of great opportunities for Grand Slam wins, and as we all know, a tennis player's window to win gets smaller and smaller with each passing tournament.
Also, if Nadal does have to miss a Slam, that leaves Federer with a chance to add more to his 16 wins, meaning the chance to overtake him would be an even steeper climb for Nadal.
No matter, you know it's a good time for men's tennis when you're forced to debate who might go down as the best tennis player ever, and they're both playing at the time.