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…