“There are still a lot of things missing. I must continue to improve. To really be satisfied, I have to become the best tennis player of all time. That’d be really great,” Nadal said Sunday evening, a few hours after completely dominating Robin Soderling to win the French Open final 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Clearly Nadal is feeling very confident after the way he dominated the clay court season. And understandably so. But does he really believe he can become the GOAT? When Federer turned 24 he had won 5 slams compared to Nadal’s 7, but just a few weeks later he won the US Open. He also won 10/18 slams after that, and he is now 28. I wonder how serious Nadal was when he said that. With all the injury problems he has already had and the type of game he plays, it’s really hard to see him becoming the GOAT.
“That’s why I try to progress every day. I try to improve my serve, my forehand, my backhand, even my volley,” the Spaniard said. “That makes me happy.”
This is the kind of attitude which have made Nadal great. We have seen how he slowly improved his game on grass since he first lost to Federer in 2006. Roger on the other hand never seemed to progress much at Roland Garros. His scores against Nadal in the final of the French Open only got worse over the years. So one must give Nadal respect for the way he is maximizing his talent and always tries to improve. I have often wished Roger could be more like that. Is it enough to make Nadal the GOAT? Even though he has improved his serve, backhand, and volleys, I don’t see how it can improve that much more. Nadal will never have the natural strokes of Roger, which means he will always have to go through a certain amount of grinding in his matches. When it comes to natural talent, the GOAT will always be in another dimension than Nadal.
“His offensive capabilities have improved tenfold, and his serve has improved exponentially, and his court position. So he’s gotten way better than he was five years ago, in my mind,” Brad Gilbert, who used to coach Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, said after Sunday’s final.
“His game is more economical. His movement is still amazing, but he’s playing a much (better) brand of offense, so that’s why I think that he’s better now than ever,” Gilbert said.
“He never takes anything for granted, and he’ll tell you that he’ll be nervous, probably, about his first-round match. And that’s why he’s so great,” Gilbert said. “Nothing is a foregone conclusion, but to me, as long as he’s healthy, he’s going to have another six to eight good cracks at” winning the French Open, a title only Bjorn Borg, with six, captured more times than Nadal already has.
So lets look at what Brad Gilbert says, someone whose opinion I respect. I agree with pretty much everything Gilbert says, except that Nadal has another 6-8 shots at the French. It’s easy to say that after Nadal has won the French Open, just as it was easy to write him off last year when he lost. If he has 6-8 more shots it means he will be playing at 30-32 years of age. I don’t think Nadal will last that long. Despite the fact that he plays more economically now, it won’t be enough to keep him healthy for that long. If he can all of a sudden develop a huge serve and amazing volleys, then maybe. But somehow I don’t see that happening. Nadal has already maximized those things. He will always be a certain kind of player. Remember we were now in the clay court season and the grass court season has just started.
These surfaces is easy on the body, and that is why Nadal has had the most success on them. When the US hard court season begins we will see how his body holds up. He has a demanding clay court season behind him now, and if he does as well as I expect him to do on the grass, he will start tiring again come the end of the year. He is always tired around the time that the US Open comes around, and I don’t see this year being any different. If Nadal ever wins the US Open, that will already be a huge accomplishment for him. With Del Potro not defending his title this year, he will have to take advantage of that. But on hard courts there are just so many more players that can pose a threat to him. Players like Murray who beat him in Australia, Del Potro when he is healthy, Djokovic, Soderling, Davydenko, and of course Roger himself. I think people overreact too quickly.
I’m not writing Nadal off either. I’m just saying lets wait until the hard court season before we act like he is the next GOAT. He dominated the clay court season without his nemesis Del Potro around, now lets see if he can do the same on grass where guys like Murray, Roddick, Soderling, and most of all Roger will be hungry to make amends for the clay court season. And finally we will see during the hard court and indoor seasons, which is his most challenging surfaces, whether he can weather the storm. If he is still number one by the end of the year, he would have done pretty well. But if not, new questions will arise about his ability to dominate. The pressure is back on him as number one. Lets see if he can handle it better than he did the last time..
Roger was not playing today, but he will be back in action tomorrow against his second round opponent of the French Open, Alejandro Fella. So far Hewitt has been looking good in the bottom half. I think we are possible looking at a Federer/Hewitt final, which would be nice.
May the Fedforce be with you.
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