Why Nadal is Further from Catching Up with Federer than it Appears

I don’t know about you but I am still on a high after Nadal got beaten on Sunday. Wimbledon turned out to be a very satisfactory experience for me, and I still feel like making posts about it all. As a Fedfan the French Open/Wimbledon double turned out to be quite interesting and satisfying. Usually the clay season is a complete bore, but the fact that Djokovic defeated Nadal in two clay finals, and the fact that Roger made his first grand slam final in 5 slams, made things a lot more interesting. Not to mention the fact that Roger was revived by snapping Djokovic’s unbelievable winning streak at the French. I was of course disappointed that Roger could not capitalize on his new found form by capturing a 7th Wimbledon title, but in the end everything worked out fine. The fact that Roger lost in the quarters gave Djokovic the chance to make the final and destroy Nadal.

Now you actually have a very interesting scenario in the top 3. You have Djokovic owning Nadal, Nadal owning Roger, and to a lesser extent Roger owning Djokovic. Lets not forget that Roger was the last person to beat Djokovic before his streak started and the one to end it. I don’t think Roger is in Djokovic’s head, but the win he had over Djokovic at the French sure went against all expectations. I mean Roger is pushing 30 and he beat Djokovic on a big stage in his very prime. It seems that his game matches up well with Djokovic. His backhand can’t be exposed as much by Djokovic as it gets exposed by Nadal, and his attacking game pays off against Djokovic. He plays first strike tennis which is important against Djokovic. I think this all bodes well for the future of tennis. Someone compared the dynamic of the top 3 to the rocks, scissors, paper game.

Nadal is the rock, Roger is the scissors, and Djokovic the paper. I thought that was a pretty accurate and funny analogy. Now let me get back to the topic of this post. For me the main theme of this era has been the Fedal dominance and rivalry. Therefor the one that ends up with the best credentials is gonna have a great case for GOAT status. You probably think by now that I have an obsession with Fedal, but like I said it is what tennis is about. First of all the amount of slams they have won the day when they retire will weigh the heaviest. Whoever wins the most slams at the end of the day is probably going to be considered greater than the other. Having said that, there are many other things to look at in this debate, which is what this post is about. So in this post I will name some reasons why Nadal is not close to GOAT status yet, other than the fact that he is still 6 slams short of Roger’s record.

Most of what I’m gonna say here has to do with the fact that Nadal’s resume is very unbalanced in favor of what he achieved on clay:

  • Of the 10 majors that he has won, 6 has been on clay(60%) 2 have been on grass(20%), and 2 on hard(20%).
  • Of his 46 tour titles, 32 have come on clay.
  • He has never defended any titles outside of clay.
  • He has won only one indoor title.
  • He has never won the Masters Cup.

These are five very revealing stats. It shows that Nadal’s success is heavily based on clay. I realize that Nadal is not retired yet, but you can expect this trend to continue, especially now that there is someone who owns him on all surfaces. Now lets look at Roger’s resume. Of his 16 slams, 9 has come on hard, 6 on grass, and 1 one clay. Already that is a much more balanced resume than Nadal. Roger dominated on two different surfaces, while Nadal has only dominated on one. Lets not forget that aside from his one French Open title, he made 4 finals in Paris. On Nadal’s worst slam surface(hard), he made no finals outside of winning the slam. Has the career slams been cheapened? I can’t say I was very happy at all with Nadal winning the US Open. His draw until the final was pretty much a joke.

In the final he faced Djokovic 1.0. He faced neither prime Roger, Murray, or Del Potro. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve the title. I just think that the career slam has become a whole lot easier to win because all the surfaces has been slowed down and homogenized. I pretty much know for a fact that Nadal would not have won the career slam in the 90’s. It is doubtful whether he would have even won a slam outside of the French. Wimbledon was considerably different than it is now, as well as the hard court slams. As far as Roger goes, I think he would still have won the career slam in the 90’s. He would have won Wimbledon and the hard court slams, and if he can win the French in the era of the clay GOAT, I’m pretty sure he would have done it in the 90’s. In fact he may have won several French Open titles.

So I don’t think that Roger’s French Open ’09 win cheapened the career slam, but when Nadal won the US Open ’10 it was a sure sign that is was getting easier to do. It was a sure sign that the court surfaces of today had cheapened the career slam. Someone like Agassi deserves more credit than Nadal for achieving the career slam, since he did it in an era where surfaces was much more heterogenous. It was harder to do, because you needed more skills to adapt to different surfaces and playing styles of opponents. Today it is pretty much all about base line tennis. Everyone plays the same, and someone with variety like Roger is a dying breed. But let me get back to comparing Roger and Nadal’s resumes. Clay is Roger’s worst surface. Yet he has won 9 clay court titles and defended a clay title(Hamburg Masters Series 04/05).

Nadal’s worst surface is arguably indoor hard. It remains hard court, but historically indoor is pretty much a surface on its own. It is only in recent times that even indoor courts have been made slower. Historically all the all time greats had good indoor resumes. It is only Nadal that has won only one indoor title, even though it has been made a lot slower of late. But lets not count indoor as a surface for a second, and just say that Nadal’s worst surface is hard court. Nadal has won only 11 titles on hard court, and never defended a title on it. Given that that there is many more tournaments on hard than on clay, Roger still did better on clay than Nadal did on hard. Let me not leave out the Masters Cup here. Historically it is a very prestigious event, second only to the slams. Roger has won in 5 times, while Nadal has never won it.

You could say that Nadal won the Olympic gold and Davis Cup, but for several reasons it doesn’t count for the same as the Masters Cup. Historically the Olympic gold is of little significance. The past greats gave it little attention. And besides, Roger has an Olympic gold for doubles. In the Olympics no distinction is made between gold medals. All gold medals count for the same. As far as Davis Cup goes, not much needs to be said since it is a team sport. You don’t control who is on your team and therefor it doesn’t count for GOAT status. Then there is of course the head-to-head issue with Nadal. If this is still an issue after the way Djokovic is now owning Nadal, then let me point out the many records of Roger that Nadal will never come close to. There is the 23 consecutive grand slam semis, the 18/19 slam finals made, the most consecutive weeks at number one, the 3 times that he won 3 slams in a year, the 5 consecutive slams won at two different slams, and many more, all of which Nadal will never even come close to.

OK I have looked enough at numbers. I think you get the idea. But the numbers itself point to something important. The numbers suggest that Roger is a multi-dimensional player. He is probably the most complete player in history. Nadal on the other hand is a one trick pony, which is why his resume is so skewed towards clay. The only reason he has gotten so far with his one-dimensional game is because the conditions on tour has been so homogenized. The fact that Roger is a much more complete player than Nadal should clearly count for GOAT status as well. You get the feeling Nadal is an opportunist who has taken advantage of conditions that suited him, while Roger’s enduring game could stand the test of any era. Then finally I get to something that counts the least for GOAT status, but I feel it is worth mentioning here.

At the end of the day numbers are really what count, and the way someone played the sport and the kind of person they were means little. For instance Connors was a total jerk who was hated by his opponents but he is respected for what he achieved. Although a player’s popularity counts nothing for GOAT status, I still find it to be important. You leave a legacy to tennis not only for what you achieved, but for the person you were. In that sense Roger is much greater than Nadal. Roger is known as one as the best ambassadors in the history of the game.He plays fair and has a lot of respect for the past greats who made it possible for him to be part of a great tradition. He realizes that it is about more than just his achievements. Most importantly he is motivated by his love for the sport. That is his number one reason for playing.

Nadal on the other hand appears much more self-centered. He will do whatever it takes to win, whether it be flat out cheating, bending the rules, or using gamesmanship. He has also recently disrespected past greats when he called their tennis boring. You get the feeling Nadal plays only for winning and self-centered motives. Nothing else matters. To me it seems he is motivated by the fear of losing. You could see how angry his dad appeared when Nadal was losing on Sunday. It looks like his dad has always put a lot of pressure on him to win, and you can see how that has translated to his on court behavior. You can also see how drastically different this is from Roger who plays for the love of the game. His parents appear much more calm and they probably instilled in Roger at an early age a sense of love for the game and didn’t pressure him to play just to win.

Well I think I have made a pretty compelling case for why Nadal is further away from catching up with Roger than just 6 slam titles. Although slam titles are the most important consideration for GOAT status, I think I have also proven that it can’t be the only. To have a shot at being GOAT Nadal must from here on at the very least vastly improve his resume outside of clay. I don’t see that happening however with the arrival of Djokovic 2.0. Nadal will find it even harder from here on to win off clay, now that he has a real rival. In fact he will win less on clay as well, given how Djokovic destroyed him on clay this year. With the final loss at Wimbledon I think Nadal’s shot at catching Roger in GOAT status has all but ended. I’m hesitant to count him out, given how many times he has proved me wrong in the past, but it must be very hard for him from here on.

For all we know he could collapse now. The Wimbledon loss and the ownage from Djokovic over him is a big setback. It will be interesting to see how he responds anyway. And then I believe Roger could add 1-2 more slams to his already GOAT-like resume…

Roger Federer


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28 Comments

  1. Excellent post mate. Have to say I totally agree with you. No don’t you will get Nadal fans slating this (as their welcome to do) but I think the argument is very well balanced – numbers after all do not lie. And Rogers career resume holds far superior. The GOAT status is without doubt something that requires greatness across multi disciplines so how a player handles himself on court and off court are more than valid.

    There is still doubt whether Nadal is even the Clay GOAT, as Borg still has a strong case. Whereas across the entire range of services Roger has proven himself to have the most versatile and adaptable technique along with ability to pull of shots that crowds remember for years to come. And this is why he has to be considered the GOAT.

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    Mossy Reply:

    *doubt and surfaces* iPhone fail!

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  2. Ru-an said:’ Everyone plays the same, and someone with variety like Roger is a dying breed.’

    Oops, not yet, we hope. :-)

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    Ru-an Reply:

    You are a Fedfan all of a sudden?

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    marron Reply:

    I’m learnin’, I’m learnin’… give me a chance, no?

    :-)

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    marron Reply:

    Maybe I should have said ‘you hope’, instead of ‘we hope’.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    As long as you use ‘no’ at the end of a sentence you dont qualify as a Fedfan. Sort it out.

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    marron Reply:

    Maybe I’m Spanish and you didn’t know it?

    Nah. Just kidding. Does my using ‘no’ bother you?

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  3. Very insightful Ru-an…
    “Pundits” like Johnny Mac may beg to differ, but judging from his bandwagon-jumping ways, his point of view in this matter carries little weight. I remember when Pete Sampras was about to retire, Mac was asked who he thought was the new generation’s ‘Pete’…he responded that it was Roger, but that he’ll never approach Pete’s Slam count…Then after some time he went to assessing Federer as the Greatest Ever…Then when Nadal started on his run, he started ‘making an argument’ for him as the greatest ever…I guess Djokovic will be his pick come year end!

    I’m glad Djokovic is now here to be what Nadal has been to Federer…& I sincerely think ROger could win at least a couple more Grand Slams…

    Keep up the Good Work!

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  4. Nice piece, Ruan. Agree with everything you say, though I wonder if Roger can ever win another slam since the Djoker is now so strong. Hopefully I’m wrong about that.

    Regarding Nadal, here’s what he’d have to do to become the GOAT: win at least 3 more Wimbledons and 4 more Australians (here I’m granting him the same thing I’m granting Fed—that Fed’s weakest surface is the French; that Nadal’s weakest is the US open). This would give Nadal 17, and assuming Fed doesn’t win another Major, one would grudgingly have to acknowledge that Nadal is the GOAT. Now of course Nadal could also keep winning at the French, which would really up his tally. But we all know he will never reach these numbers at the Australian and Wimbledon, so the mighty Fed’s legacy is safe. In my opinion, Nadal will probably end up with 13 majors (2 more French and 1 more Wimbledon), and then retire due to a bum knee or foot, or perhaps hurt pride. And if Fed wins one or two more slams, that should definitely end the argument, once and for all.

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  5. I think perhaps the biggest fallout from the loss to Djokovic is that, most likely, any chance of Nadal becoming a dominant Wimbledon champion has evaporated. This is because Nadal now owns a losing record in Wimbledon finals (2 wins, 3 losses).

    There was a lot of talk before and during the tournament of how Nadal was on a ‘winning streak’ at Wimbledon, undefeated since the 2007 final. I always found this chatter inane given that he missed 2009, and never actually defended his 2008 title. Losing the 2011 final certainly puts to rest any opportunity Nadal may have had to build a true winning streak on the grass.

    In terms of the overall greatness equation this is important, given that Wimbledon is the most prestigious title in tennis. Just think, if Nadal had won against Djokovic, the pundits would be talking about Nadal’s ‘3 straight’ Wimbledon titles!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good post. If Nadal could dominate slams on 2 surfaces it would have done a lot of his GOAT status. It now looks unlikely that he will dominate grass. This Wimby loss to Djokovic is really a big deal in the overall debate. I mean people were already talking about Nadal as the new GOAT. Thank God those people have now been put in their place by Djokovic.

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  6. Starting with the 2005 FO, Nadal’s ratio of winning each Slam is
    AO: won 1 of 6
    FO: won 6 of 7
    W: won 2 of 7
    USO: won 1 of 6

    I think Nadal will at the most win 2 more French Opens. That means he has to win 5 Slams off clay (more than DOUBLE of what he already has). The odds of this occurring are tiny.

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  7. I can’t thank Djoker enough, he has stopped Nadal from reaching Roger’s GS record. Having said that Roger is outshine him in most dept except for H2H. I dont understand why Nadal is in even in GOAT discussion when he can’t even do the simplest ie defend any titles outside of clay tournament. Though he has most # of Masters title but its heavily skewed toward clay surface-ouch! It will be interesting to see how he fare at USO this year since he is defending champion. Time for Roger to win as he has not won this title for past 2 yrs – too long!!

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  8. Nice post, and there are other Roger´s records as his SF
    streaks…In my opinion Nadal is down mentally remember after his loss to Sod. he finished the year N4,he isn´t so strong in defeat.
    I notice that Djoko never talk about Roger like he does about Nadal, there is no love between these two, that´s why Roger was so hot in Paris.If Djoko would have won RG. we would have an on boring streak, but more importantly the possibility of a CALENDAR SLAM.That´s
    why I´m very thankful to the maestro for beating Novak.
    Ruan I don´t have your posts…

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Added you again.

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  9. well appreciated my friend for this post. as far as stats are to be believed that roger has the best resume compared to any one. i think i would like to add up to already mentioned stats are his awards be it laureus sport awards or the atp awards. we always find roger. i dont think head to head is a major issue for roger with rafa. they reach finals on clay and play each other. where as on other surfaces roger had to worry about someone else. the number of different players roger beat in grand slam finals tells us that.

    a real challenge to any player is to beat the 11 grand slams which roger won in 4 years (2004-2007). believe me no other player in history be it men or women have ever achieved that.

    dont forget those streaks he had on different surfaces and against top ten players.

    its sad to see roger lose and all i hope is the best is yet to come.

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  10. Just to prove how balanced Roger’s Slam resume, here is how the top Slam winners stack up when we look at % of Slams won at the player’s best Slam:

    Edberg: 33.3%
    Laver: 36.3%
    Federer: 37.5%
    Lendl: 37.5%
    Wilander: 42.9%
    Sampras: 50%
    Emerson: 50%
    Agassi: 50%
    Becker: 50%
    Borg: 54.5%
    McEnroe: 57.1%
    Nadal: 60%
    Connors: 62.5%

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    marron Reply:

    Not sure I understand the significance of this one. Can you explain it more?

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    George Reply:

    “Of the 10 majors that he has won, 6 has been on clay(60%)”. On the other hand, Roger has 6 WIMBLEDON titles so far, that is to say 37.5%(6/16). This of course indicates that Roger Federer has been able to dominate almost equally on WIMBLEDON(37.5%), AO(25%) and US OPEN(31.25%). That’s a huge accomplishment.

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    marron Reply:

    OK, I gotcha now, thanks.

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  11. Was Nadal 18 when he won his first slam? Peaked a little early, IMHO, and with Djoker in the picture from now on, he’s gonna have some major trouble. Djoker is better, and he has proven it. But I must say, the only guy who stopped the Djoker was the MIGHTY FED. GO FED. G

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  12. In the elation, which I shared, at seeing Nadal toppled from his Wimbledon perch (as well as his number one ranking) there are two rather more sobering points to ponder: it wasn’t Roger who was able to get the business done but the Serb, because Roger wasn’t mentally tough enough to put away Tsonga in the quarters; and, secondly, it’s a sure bet that to beat Nadal 5 times this year Djokovic has joined the Spaniard in becoming a doper. I guess that’s what it takes to win a grand slam now.

    So Roger’s slam record is looking safer with Djokovic’s meteoric rise to the top, but Roger, for the present, has little to do with that, and is looking increasingly like yesterday’s man. I find that kinda sad. ‘Chemical tennis’ reigns supreme for the foreseeable future.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    By your argument Roger would have to have beaten a doper, which is unfair. So if Djokovic is a doper as well then its better that he faced another doper in the final.

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    neil Reply:

    You are right – it would be unfair for Roger to have to beat a doper. But that’s what I think he now faces, and is one of the reasons it’s so much harder for him these days. Yet, he showed at the FO, in beating Djokovic, that on a good day he is still capable of beating the best, such is his remarkable talent. I don’t think anyone else could do that – ‘clean’. Still, the puzzling thing for me is why Roger loses matches that you can see he could have won. He has the game to win – but sometimes not, apparently, the mindset.

    In the meantime, the sport is being taken over by ‘super-charged’ athletes, and where court speed, the ability to run all day, defend and retrieve – and counter-punch – are the primary skills needed to win at the top. This is a relatively new development, and is so dramatically different from tennis played only a decade ago that we have to wonder how it is achieved. Roger’s brilliant and varied attacking game is rooted in a previous generation of players. There are few like him left – if any.

    As for Djokovic ‘facing another doper in the final’ – well, part of Djokovic’s extraordinary improvement this year has been his stamina and court speed – his retrieving and counter-punching skills now match Nadal’s. He has levelled that particular playing field and shown that he is, overall, the more skilled player – as I believe he always was. As I said previously – and facetiously – if players are doping I prefer the more skilled player to win. You and I both dislike the one-dimensional nature of Nadal’s game, that is rooted in grinding his opponents into the dust: it is a relief to finally see someone render his particular style of steroid-driven tennis impotent. I would have preferred that it was Roger, but if it had to be a ‘gluten-free’ Djokovic – well, that’s good enough.

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    Alessandro Reply:

    I agree. Nadal was outplayed by a now equally fit opponent, who happens to be a lot more talented and complete.

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