Why the tennis ‘GOAT’ debate is much more than numbers
Nadal is not only a 13-time Roland Garros champion, but also a 20-time Grand Slam champion.
Sparkling in defence, and explosive in attack in Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic, Nadal produced a performance every bit the equal of his jaw dropping 6-1 6-3 6-0 win over Roger Federer in the 2008 final.
He now has the same number of Grand Slams as Federer, although both are still shy of Serena Williams’ Open era record of 23.
Federer was quick to offer his congratulations, and “hopes 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us”.
Federer, now in his 40th year, has featured in just one of the past 10 Slam finals. Nadal has appeared in half of them, and given he was able to win Roland Garros without dropping a set, may one day be in Williams territory.
Not that Djokovic is remotely done. He is a year younger than Nadal, has been in six of the past 10 Slam finals, and is fuelled by the thought of ending his career with more Grand Slams than any other man.
Some will argue Nadal’s success is inflated by his mastery of clay. True, 65% of his Grand Slams have come at Roland Garros, but think how injury has robbed him of further opportunities in Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York.
The debate about the greatest male player of all time has become increasingly partisan. We can all throw statistics at one another, but the attachment is more emotional. You may have found the rivalry between Federer and Nadal – each a perfect foil to the other – too compelling not to take sides.
But how about the achievements of Novak Djokovic, from a country with little tennis heritage, who broke up that duopoly?
There will, of course, never be a definitive answer, so the number of Grand Slams won will carry a lot of weight. Weeks as world number one, Olympic gold medals and Davis Cup titles all count for a great deal, but if you want to boil this down to a numbers game, then the Grand Slams remain the sport’s reference point.