Federer or Nadal: Who is the greatest?

Josh Antmann14 September 2010 - 13:52



Roger Federer is still regarded by many as the greatest tennis player of all time. But the crown that sits on top of his head is just starting to slip after the superb display of Rafael Nadal at the US Open.

The Spaniards powerful display against Novak Djokovic has reopened the prolonged debate of who is the greatest tennis player to have lived. Nadal’s win at Flushing Meadows means that he is currently the holder of three grand slams, with the Australian Open the missing piece of the puzzle. At 24 years of age Nadal becomes the second youngest player to have won all four majors and now sits only seven victories behind Federer’s total of 16 grand slams.

No one can argue that Roger Federer took the game of tennis to a new level, and his victory over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 signaled the changing of the guard. During 2003-2006 he amassed nine grand slam victories, one final and two semi finals. He revolutionised the game and was labeled as the greatest player to have lived. The final that he reached in that period was against non-other than Nadal. Suddenly Federer wasn’t the unstoppable force that he once was, with Nadal possessing the Kryptonite to stop the all powerful Swiss.

Nine and counting

Nadal has now taken his total grand slam victories to nine and the question is now how many more? He is ten months younger then when Federer totalled nine grand slams and in his current form Nadal looks like he will be catching the Swiss player’s tally soon. During a press conference at Flushing Meadows, Nadal played down the title of greatest of all time and still sees Federer as top of the shop:

“This talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he is much better than me,'' Nadal said. “I think that will be true all my life.”

“I think what Roger did is something almost impossible to repeat. Roger has won 16 grand slams already. But what he did, 23 or 24 semi-finals in a row, that's something amazing. It is impossible to repeat, in my opinion.”

One man who is in a good position to compare the two players is Novak Djokovic. He defeated Federer in the semi finals but succumbed to the brilliance of Nadal yesterday:

“At this point there is five, six years' difference between them, and basically Federer had more years on the tour, he had more success; he has more trophies. He's definitely somebody who made history in this sport. He's still playing as one of the best players in the world.

“The other hand, you have Nadal who is just proving each day, each year that he's getting better. That's what's so frustrating, a little bit. He's getting better each time you play him.”

The stats tell their own tale

There are many arguments to suggest Nadal has overtaken the mantle of the greatest of all time from Federer. Their head to head record alone stands out with Nadal leading it 14-7. More importantly Nadal has performed when it matters in grand slam finals with a 5-2 lead. Nadal has also done something in 2010 which Federer has never achieved; winning grand slams on three different surfaces in the same year.

The Spaniard’s adaptability and versatile approach gives him the advantage over many of his opponents. The day before the US Open started this year he changed the grip on his serve to adjust on to the hard courts. It improved his first serve speed by 12mph and enhanced arguably the weakest part of his game.

Nadal’s route to 16 majors or more could be questionably more difficult then Federer’s. Roger dominated at a time when his main opponents were either reaching the end of their careers (Sampras, Agassi), or were very young and still maturing (Nadal, Murray, Djokovic). Nadal will have to face players in their prime like Murray and Djokovic, and the upcoming elite players like Soderling, Del Potro and Tsonga.

Laver, Borg, Sampras...Federer & Nadal

It’s hard to find a definitive answer to the greatest of all time as most of the leading contenders are from different eras. Rod Laver is the only player to have won a calendar year Grand Slam. Not only once, but twice! As an amateur in 1962 then as a professional in 1969. Bjorn Borg racked up an impressive 11 major victories which included an unbelievable 41 match winning streak at Wimbledon. Pete Sampras ruled the tennis world during the 90’s with the Wimbledon engraver putting his name on the trophy before the tournament began. However the French Open eluded the American.

But what makes the Federer-Nadal argument so captivating is that they are from the same era. Federer has a losing record against the Spaniard and it’s hard to argue if Federer is still the greatest ever. It used to be the case that Nadal was always measured against Federer, but it seems that the table has turned and Federer may have to pass the crown on to the new king of tennis.

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