Rafael Nadal: Writing Tennis History
Originally published on: 21/12/13 00:00
It is an era in which superlatives are thrown about like confetti, but after his astonishing comeback season Rafael Nadal could just be on the brink of receiving the ultimate accolade. Even though the dust has only recently settled on the debate over whether Roger Federer or Rod Laver should be regarded as the greatest player of all time, the moment may have come to re-open the discussion.
Andre Agassi, who has his own claim to greatness as the only man to have won all four Grand Slam titles, the Davis Cup, Olympic gold and the year-ending championships, believes there is already a case for regarding Nadal as the greatest in history, even if the Spaniard’s tally of 13 Grand Slam titles is four fewer than Federer’s.
“I do think that even without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time,” Agassi said recently. “He does have a winning record over Federer, even though a lot of those wins came on clay. He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
"You can also make the argument that this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world. And once Nikolay Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world. If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit. It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title.”
Throw Novak Djokovic into the conversation – even if the Serb has “only” six Grand Slam titles to his name – and you appreciate what an extraordinary era this is. It was only four years ago that Federer passed Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles, yet the 32-year-old Swiss is already in danger of being overtaken by 27-year-old Nadal and perhaps even by 26-year-old Djokovic.
Nevertheless, all of today’s players had a huge advantage over Laver, who missed 21 Grand Slam tournaments in succession during his prime after turning professional before the Open era. Given that Laver’s exile was sandwiched between his two pure Grand Slams (all four major titles in the same year) in 1962 and 1969, the Australian might even have doubled his eventual tally of 12 Grand Slam titles had his career not been interrupted.
This is an excerpt from Writing Tennis History by Paul Newman. To read the full article, get your hands on a copy of tennishead Volume 4 Issue 6. Subscribe to tennishead today or download the issue via iTunes.