“I would love to be the one to have [the most Grand Slam titles], but you cannot be frustrated all day or all day be thinking about what your neighbour has better than you. You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do it your way. If you are the one to achieve more, fantastic. If not, at least I gave my best during all of my career. That’s all.”
If we were handing out prizes for the most humble sporting legends, the mighty Spaniard would be among the favourites. Rafael Nadal has spent his career balancing extraordinary feats on the court with quotes about how ‘ordinary’ he truly is.
But with 18 grand slam singles titles, 35 Masters 1000s, two Olympic gold medals, four Davis Cups, 196 weeks at no.1 and $111m in prize-money, he’s about as far from ordinary as one can get.
Nadal is, in fact, one of the greatest tennis players to ever play the sport. If he wins tonight’s final, the 33-year-old will move to just one major behind Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20.
A ridiculous, but realistic 13th title at Roland Garros next season would put the pair level.
So let’s imagine Roger and Rafa on 20 majors apiece. Who do you think is greater? Is there such a thing as the GOAT? And what about Novak Djokovic? These may seem like premature or even pointless questions, but they’ll become very common in the near future.
Debates such as these get ever more intense due to the overwhelming influence of social networks.
If you give every tennis fan a pedestal, they won’t hesitate to holler at you about all the reasons why their favourite is untouchable.
For a long time, Federer seemed untouchable.
If we travel back a decade, there was legitimate talk of the Swiss being the greatest men’s player of all-time even then. In a post-match interview after Federer claimed his 15th career major at Wimbledon 2009, John McEnroe asked Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg for their thoughts.
Understandably, they were hesitant to name Federer as the undisputed best but it was a realistic argument.
At the time, Nadal had notched six majors while Djokovic had only one to boast about. There was a massive gulf between the three, but as Michael Keaton’s Batman said – “things change”.
A dozen Roland Garros titles, accompanied by a smattering of other majors, have propelled Nadal up the all-time list. Meanwhile, Djokovic has been the outstanding player of recent times having lifted 10 major in six years.
I’ve previously discussed the Serb’s credentials as potentially the best of the trio, but what about Rafa?
Despite all the injury strife and confidence dips over the years, the Mallorcan has been extraordinarily consistent.
He is the only man to have won at least one major each season for 10 straight years.
If Nadal is victorious this evening against Daniil Medvedev, there is the very real possibility of him matching and possibly overtaking Federer’s all-time record in 2020.
If he does that, surely that makes him the GOAT?
Well…probably not to Federer’s army of fans. Some followers treat the 38-year-old as a deity who should not be questioned by any old doubting Thomas on Twitter. Djokovic’s hardcore fan club can also be a bit stubborn when it comes to their man.
When you solely look through the stats, it is true to say that each member of the trio has legitimate claims to be called the best.
But when it comes to the final showdown, emotions will often override the bare facts.
For the average tennis fan, you could argue that if the mind says Djokovic and the heart says Nadal, the soul usually belongs to the man from Basel.