How Does Nadal’s 10th French Open Title Affect the GOAT Debate?

Now that a big three member won a grand slam title again we can once again look at how it affected the GOAT debate. Just to be clear, I don’t believe a GOAT can be determined. There are too many variables and intricacies. But just because it can’t be determined it doesn’t mean there isn’t one, so it is worth discussing. And besides, it’s interesting and fun.

First of all, a 10th French Open title is an unbelievable achievement and will be the most difficult record to beat of all the records. That said, 10 is not very different from 9, and it didn’t tell us much about Nadal that we didn’t already know.

In fact, it made Nadal’s already unbalanced resume even more skewed toward clay. Nadal is not merely a clay court specialist. He is actually the only player in history that has won more than one slam on each surface, a fact that only very recently occurred to me.

But as far as a 10th French open title goes it only raises the ratio of clay court slams to other slams and clay court titles to other titles. With a 10th French Open title, Nadal has now won exactly two-thirds of his slams on clay(10/15). That is 67%.

Some other stats:

1- More than 72% of career titles won on clay.
2- More than 73% of Masters 1000 titles won on clay
3- Failure at retaining any title outside of clay

4- Unimpressive head-to-head records outside of clay :

– Djokovic: 9-19
– Davydenko: 1-6
– Federer: 10-12
– Hewitt: 2-4
– Brown: 0-2
– Coric: 1-2
– Ferrer: 5-5
– Ljubicic: 2-2
– Gonzalez: 3-3
– Monaco: 1-1
– Del Potro: 6-5
– Blake: 4-3
– Soderling: 2-1

Other than that Nadal spent 141 weeks at #1(7th all-time) and won 0 World Tour Finals titles because he invests so much energy into the clay court season that he is always a spent force post-US Open. He is also a lousy indoor player compared to other all-time greats with only one indoor title.

The reason he spent so many fewer weeks at number one than Federer(302) and Djokovic(223) is that he is only an all-time great on clay and therefore can’t dominate outside of clay which is needed to hold the number one position for extended periods of time.

Nadal is clearly one of the all-time greats but as I always insist, balance is of supreme importance when it comes to the resume of a GOAT candidate. Surely, a GOAT candidate must be able to master all conditions and surfaces. That is clearly not the case with Nadal.

Big three surface rankings

Surface/Conditions Federer Djokovic Nadal
Hardcourt(Australian Open + US Open) 10 (1st) (2nd) (3rd)
Grass(Wimbledon) (1st) (2nd) (3rd)
Clay(French Open) (2nd) (2nd) 10 (1st)
Indoor(World Tour Finals) (1st) (2nd) (3rd)
Overall  (1st)  (2nd)  (3rd)

You wouldn’t say he mastered indoor tennis or even grass or hard courts. Indoor tennis is not an actual surface but it doesn’t make it any less significant and it as historically been a very important part of tennis. There used to be a much longer indoor season.

As opposed to Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are the better hard court, grass court, and indoor players. Federer is a better grass court player than Djokovic but Djokovic is a better clay court player than Federer. Indoors and on hard courts they are quite even.

It should be obvious that Federer and Djokovic have far more balanced resumes than Nadal and that their games are also far more complete.

  • Nadal’s Personality

In many ways, Nadal has benefited from modern tennis. The homogenization of surfaces, racquet and string technology, and the lack of indoor events have all tremendously benefited Nadal.

And yet, he complains far more than Federer or Djokovic. If it’s not the fact that there are not enough clay court tournaments(even though there are far more clay court events than grass court events) then it’s the fact that the World Tour Finals are not played on clay(thereby confirming how dependent he is on clay) or the fact that umpires are too tough on him for taking endless times between point, or the fact that the tennis calendar is too crowded, or the fact that he has to play with different balls, or the scheduling.

The list is endless to the point that articles such as Is Rafael Nadal in Danger of Being Labeled a Whiner? has been written. At the French Open this year he threatened umpire Ramos and told him he won’t chair his matches again. He also demanded a ban on umpire Bernardes after getting into a dispute with him.

Nadal portrays a humble persona but his actions often reveal someone who is self-centered and selfish. Federer and Djokovic seem far more altruistic. This is another reason Nadal is not in my top tier of GOAT candidates. You would think he would be grateful for all the changes to tennis that has benefited him but instead, he selfishly whines about conditions.

This is not the characteristic of a GOAT candidate in my view. And neither is his one-dimensional playing style. It amazes me how Nadal can still win a slam at age 31 given that the basis of his game is endless defense and grinding. But I suppose all the time he has taken off due to injury hasn’t hurt.

If Nadal becomes the first player in the open era to win the double career slam I will be forced to reconsider him for my top tier of GOAT candidates but for now, I simply can’t have him in my top tier due to shortcomings in his resume, playing style, and personality as outlined in this post.

What do you think?

Should Nadal be in the top tier of GOAT candidates?

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22 Comments

  1. “Nadal portrays a humble persona but his actions often reveal someone who is self-centered and selfish.”
    Contrived humility! Only bought by his adoring fans.

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    Lynsey Adams Reply:

    Amen!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I agree.

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  2. “He is actually the only player in history that has won more than one slam on each surface, a fact that only very recently occurred to me.”

    Oh come on, you had some help in that :-P

    Besides, a true GOAT should be someone who is the best on each and every surface. The closest to that was imo was Federer as he was the best on HC, grass and 2nd best on clay.

    Nadal can’t be a GOAT ever. He is only the best on clay and that’s it. He is, by far, the best surface specialist the game has ever known though.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, you made me aware of that self-evident fact 😀 Actually, Djokovic is second best on clay. If Djokovic wins another FO he will be more balanced than Federer. With Federer, there is a big gap between his grass and HC resume and his clay resume – 5:1:7:5:6 leaves a pretty big hole in his resume on clay. If there is a flaw with Federer it is his baseline consistency and ability to tough out long physically and mentally challenging matches which is pretty much what clay is about.

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  3. Wilander has also 2 Slams on each Surface.
    I don’t know why but it is a fact.
    Greetings from Germany

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    Ru-an Reply:

    He won 0 Wimbledon titles.

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    Eren Reply:

    Well I might be wrong (but not certain). Wilander did win something on Grass, namely the AO, which was played on grass in 1983 and 1984(?)

    Just like Connors did win a Slam on clay despite not winning the FO. It seems the USO was played on clay for a short period of time.

    Nadal might not be the only one after all. I guess I was wrong after all.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I think you are right again. To be honest the history of the game beyond a certain point does not interest me much but this is a significant fact if true.

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    Eren Reply:

    Hahaha, yeah I am bit of stats freak though.

    Connors won the USO on all (grass, clay and hardcourt) surfaces. That’s a cool record to have.

    I guess more tennis players have won the career slam than we thought. I know the official meaning is to have won all slams. But that only makes it special because you would have won slams on all main surfaces.

    If Wilander and Connors have done the same they can be held in the same rank as the likes of Agassi. Winning them all does make it more special and prestigious though. Nonetheless, the main achievement of winning slams on all surfaces still should be the measuring stick for a “career slam.”

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, winning slams on all the surfaces are important but it adds to prestige to win all the slams. Wilander didn’t win Wimbledon which is the most prestigious event in tennis. Career slam for me should be all the slams just like calendar slam is all the slams. Those two are related. They are essentially the same thing but the one is much harder since you have to win all four in a calendar year. In order of difficulty, it is 1. calendar slam, 2. personal slam, 3. career slam.

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  4. Y’all try too hard to undermine Rafa at times. If you consider all the finals he’s been in off clay then his resume would have been more balanced but I guess the brilliance of the other 2 has taken some shine off him and vice versa . He did the channel slam which was the gold standard for versatility twice and gold medals and Davis cups don’t mean shit then. You can rip his one dimensional play but to say he’s not a top tier GOAT is borderline insulting.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I guess that depends on what you mean by top tier GOAT. I agree that Nadal is one of the all-time greats but to me, there is a distinction between him and Federer/Djokovic/Laver. None of them were so dependent on one surface to rack up slams and titles. I think to be in the top tier you need a resume that is a little more balanced.

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    B.Jay Reply:

    Well it’s only your opinion in the end but it’s all too obvious that it’s been heavily tinged by your dislike for Nadal.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    It’s not entirely true that I dislike Nadal. There are some things about him that I like. But what difference does it make whether I like or dislike Nadal if what I say is true?

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  5. Wilander came closely. He won all 4 Slams. Wimbledon in Doubles and by the way 2 Slams on each Surface. He is a crazy Guy with his Show i think. For the record: I am a Fan of Connors and McEnroe. From the active Players I like mostly Djokovic, Delpo and Thiem. In that order. Also I have special interest in Kyrgios and Nadal.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, Wilander was solid. I remember supporting him.

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  6. McEnroe has 148 Titles combined in Singles and Doubles. It is also a Message.
    I find that all players with less than 8 Grand Slam titles in the individual should not be involved in the debate. Connors, Lendl and Agassi but already. Becker and Edberg no way. WILANDER not than he was just 20 weeks on Number One. McEnroe 170.

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  7. For God’s sake, listen to yourself…

    By your logic, winning one more slam makes him less the goat!?

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I don’t think you read my post or you don’t understand my logic. The reason Nadal’s resume is so unbalanced(which in my view is one of the most important factors for determining GOAT) is exactly that he puts so much emphasis on clay court tennis. Then how can another clay court title add to his GOAT status? We already know he is the clay GOAT. This title only reinforces that fact. He is still not one of the all-time greats on HC or grass. So he dominated one surface. Not good enough to be the GOAT.

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  8. There is but one GOAT and his name is Roger and why he is so is clearly etched by the number of slams and for some technical and playing style reasons which you may want to read in this article over 3 separate posts about Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray … The writer clearly describes why Roger will continue to reign beyond 31 and why the others will retire by their 33rd birthday. I do not agree with most of what this guy writes but this one hits the nail on its head squarely …. http://www.138mph.com/decoding-the-big-three-murray/

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    Ru-an Reply:

    The others will retire by their 33 birthday? I don’t know about Nadal or Murray but Djokovic has already said he plans to play until 40 👍

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