GOAT Debate: What Does Nadal’s French Open Victory Mean?

Rafael Nadal has once again won the French Open. He has won 12, in fact. He has won so many, that he is affectionately called the King of Clay. Not only tha,t but his Grand Slam tally is now at 18. What’s interesting about that is it puts him just two behind Roger Federer’ 20.

The closest he had ever been to Federer before was three Grand Slams. Many would argue that he will eclipse Federer one day. This may be true. But would that necessarily mean he is the Greatest of All Time?

I would argue no. Although on the surface it appears that Federer and Nadal are virtually equal, at least on Grand Slam titles. Beneath the surface there is more to it than that. Nadal has 18; 12 of them have come at the French Open. Without diminishing this peerless achievement, that accounts for 67% of Nadal’s Grand Slam titles.

This is important as if one looks at Federer’s best tournament, Wimbledon/ This accounts for “just” 40% of his Grand Slam titles. In other words, whilst Nadal is close on 18, his spread of titles show that he is superior on clay only.

Furthermore, to regard Nadal, as of right now, as the GOAT means to ignore that he is inferior to Federer on all surfaces accept for Clay. Therefore, this is why Grand Slam tallies alone don’t answer who is the GOAT, it is just one indication of it.

To put this point further, Nadal has won fewer Australian Opens, Wimbledons, and US Opens than Pete Sampras, let alone Federer or even Novak Djokovic. It would be foolish to position Nadal as the GOAT simply from the potential that he will eclipse Federer’s total, especially if they only come from the French.

Nadal is unquestionably the greatest clay court player ever, but that’s as far as we can currently take it. In addition, Nadal has never defended a non-clay title at any tournament level. This illustrates how deep this point goes.

To conceivably be the GOAT, he needs to emulate his clay success on another surface. Federer, Djokovic, and Sampras all have superior records to Nadal on the other surfaces. The Spaniard needs to rectify this to go from “one of” to “the” greatest. Especially at Grand Slam level.

So whilst he is the undisputed King of Clay, he isn’t King of Tennis. That title remains with Federer, and Djokovic arguably has a greater claim to it than Nadal does.

Main Photo from Getty

29 COMMENTS

  1. This argument is invalid. If we are speaking of surfaces, if you took out all the “hard court” grand slams (US and Australian Opens) from Federer or Djokovic, they each have 9 and 8 “non hard court” grand slams respectively, compared to 6 “non-clay” grand slams for Nadal. The difference then becomes significantly less. Of note, the US Open used to be a clay grand slam before switching to hard court. You also failed to mention that Nadal defeated Federer at Wimbledon in 2008 but Federer is 0-6 against Nadal at Roland Garros. You need to compare apples to apples in your analysis.

  2. What nonsense is this Jakob analyst spewing? He has to emulate his success on clay on other courts? So he has to win 12 hardcourt grand slams, and 12 Wimbledons? Absurd! Furthermore, every great player has one surface they dominate. For Federer it’s grass, with 8 Wimbledons. One could say that Rafa is simply more dominant on his preferred surface than Roger ever was. Also, Nadal has beaten Federer way more on his non dominant surfaces, than Federer has. And let’s NOT FORGET the lack of strong opponents that Roger had from ’04 to ’07, which is the only reason he accumulated those championship. But as soon as great opponents emerged, Roger was no longer in utter command. Jakob, you’re just wrong.

  3. What is Federer’s head to head against Nadal with respects to the AO? He lost in the 2009 finals and 2014 semifinals and won the 2017 finals. So he has a inferior AO record against Nadal. Your analysis is full of holes.

  4. This article comes across to me as pure envy and jealousy over Nadal’s success. Are you, the author , a rabid fan of Federer and Djokovic ?
    Why did I ask ? You have the same reasoning as all diehard fans of Federer and Djokovic !!!

  5. Nadals record on clay is the most impressive feat in all of tennis history. Federer’s total number of grand slams will be broken. Nadal and Djokovic may even do it. But Nadal’s run of French open titles will not be broken in at least half a century. No one dominates their preferred surface as nadal does on clay, not even close.

    How can one claim to be the GOAT, when there is an undisputed King of Clay?

    • Grass and hard court are the two important surfaces to be the GOAT. All the greats like Federer have to dominate at Wimbledon.

  6. An argument can be made that Hard court results should be discounted.
    Tennis was played on grass and clay. (Some lunatic introduced hard courts and often you are watching people serve rather that playing tennis. Drop the second serve we might see some tennis.)
    If u r not discounting it why are you not discharging 50 % of the hardcourt results after all there are 2 vs 1 grass and clay court.
    What if all slams would be played on clay and grass only as it should be .
    No one would ever question who is top dog as Federer is not as dominant on grass as rafa is on clay

    • Much easier to dominate on clay, then grass. Big hitters can win against anyone on grass when they tree. Not so on clay… obviously.

  7. Federer prefers fast courts. “Luckily” for him, there are 3 fast court majors nowadays. He has won 8 out of 20 on grass, and 11 out of 20 on hard courts. That’s 40% and 55% on the two faster surfaces (95% in total), and 5% on clay. Nadal has won 67% of his majors on the slower surface, clay, 22% on hard courts and 11% on grass. In terms of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ division of majors, Nadal has a better balance. Outside of his preferred surface, he still has a decent majors won resume, while both Federer and Djokovic have only 1 major on clay. Nadal has multiple majors on all surfaces, Fed and Nole do not. One should note that there is only once chance for Nadal each year, to play a major on clay, his best surface. To win 12 out of 18, is impressive, considering that both Federer and Djokovic, who prefer hard courts (Djokovic prefers hard courts especially), have double the amount of chances each year to play for a major on that particular surface, yet, they are nowhere close to 24. The author takes the approach that since there are more majors on hard courts, one’s total of majors won, should reflect that. I argue that the fact that there are nowadays two majors on hard courts (it could have been 2 on clay, think US Open, back in the 70s, or 2 on grass, think Aussie Open until mid 80s), does not mean hard courts is the more important surface. When Nadal had won 10 RG’s, the argument also was ‘too many on clay’, while no one ever mentioned Federer’s 11 on HC or Djokovic his 10 on HC. Before one jumps to the conclusion that another major on grass would mean even more majors for Federer: no. His HC and grass GS win rate are almost the same and history shows that Wimbledon champs did not necessarily become Aussie Open grass champs and vice versa. An extra major on clay, however, given Nadal’s extremely high win rate on clay outside of the major, and even better, within the major, would most certainly mean that Nadal would have been ahead of the pack at this stage. All in all: total majors won is the measurement for GOAT debate, but hey, if it’s Nadal who wins, it seems the fans of Federer decide “let’s put some extra rules in there, because we can’t accept this”.

  8. First of all Hard courts should be discounted
    Tennis was played on grass and clay.
    Nadal would win it hands down as Federer is not as dominant on grass as Nadal is on clay.
    If you do not discount hardcourts then only us open should be counted ( traditionally the more important slam then aus open) as there are two hardcourts vs 1 clay and 1 on grass.

  9. This guy is saying like Federer is defended FO back to back ??? Federer can’t even touch the 2nd FO and it already said how hard to geT 1 FO? Understand the non-sense Author ??

  10. Grass and hard courts are the two more important surfaces for the GOAT to dominate. Clay is clay.

    That’s why RF still has it.

  11. Federer had no competition 1st 5 years of his career
    And he still could win RG

    Grass is grass
    Hard court are hardcourts
    Clay is real tennis!

    RF never had it

  12. Using same yardstick Federer and Novak are only good on two surfaces and cannot be even considered for GOAT. If surface spread of Grand Slams mean more than Nadal is the only player in open era to have at least two slams on all the three surfaces. That should make him undisputed GOAT as per your yardstick. One French Open each for Federer and Novak can be considered a fluke as Nadal was not physically fit on both those occasions.

  13. nadal pulls close to federer – the closest he’s been since circa 2004 – and the federer fanboys start writing thinkpieces about how nadal cannot be goat even if he reels him in. suddenly, they start talking about nadal as claygoat as if pigeonholing him that way hinders him from getting anyway near the goat conversation. i have news for you; at the end of it all, the numbers, not some numb, mindless, useless, pontificating piece, will decide everyone’s place in history. it already is a given that these 3 are the greatest (at least for the forseeable future). each one of them has unique records the others dont have; djokovic has his set of all 9 1000s, the joker slam and h2h over the other goat-contenders, nadal has his 12-0 at roland garros, 12-11-11 at fo, monte carlo and barcelona, and his olympic gold (on hardcourt no less), federer has his 20, 6 end of year wins, and record number 1. we really are spoilt in this era and should be grateful to the tennis gods for being this kind to us.

  14. GOAT is a highly subjective accolade. If we are going by Slams won, Margaret Court is the one. Not to even mention those who won Singles, Doubles and Mixed doubles, Navratilova and others.. Maybe, someone can analyze it from every aspect of the sport of Tennis. How many hours of winning tennis each of these contenders played, how many slam finals they won from each other, how many slam runner-up titles, but…all to what end.
    If chasing records is your thing, great. The game itself is bigger than all these. I feel heated arguments are fairly trivial sometimes.

  15. Look at 4 majors, 9 masters and YEC.
    Roger or Novak leads in every non clay event and Roger leads in one clay event in terms of titles
    Roger,Novak,Rafa
    Wimbledon 8 , 4 , 2
    AO 6, 7, 1
    USO 5, 3, 3
    YEC 6, 5, 0
    Masters
    IW 5, 5, 3
    Miami 4, 6, 0
    Cinci 7, 1, 1
    Paris 1, 4, 0
    Shangai 3, 4, 1
    Torono 2, 4, 4
    Madrid clay 3, 6, 5 –Madrid clay masters before 2009 was German masters

  16. In order to be the GOAT, you have to be Greatest of your peers, so simply look at this number — Nadal and Federer have played each other 39 times. Nadal has won 24 (61%) of the 39 matches. Here is a breakdown by surface —

    Clay…………….Nadal Leads 14-2
    Grass…………..Fed leads 2-1
    Indoor Hard…..Fed leads 5-1
    Outdoor Hard…Nadal leads 8-6

    here’s a breakdown of matches they’ve faced each other in a Grand Slam —

    Australian Open….Nadal leads 3-1
    French Open……..Nadal leads 6-0
    Wimbledon……….Fed leads 2-1

    Nadal defeated Fed @ Wimbledon. Fed has never defeated Nadal @ French, even though he’s had many more opportunities. How can you be the GOAT if you aren’t even the greatest between you and you #1 rival?

    • Federer is 11-9 on hardcourts and 2-1 on grass. He has 8 wimbledons to 2 and 11 hardcourt slams to 4. He owns 2 out of 3 surfaces and the most important 2. That’s why Federer is the GOAT.

  17. You are clearly a Federer fan. You are asking Rafa to defend a non-clay GS while Federer has never defended a clay slam… You are asking Rafa to win more non-clay slam, but you are not asking Federer to win more clay slam…It’s a double standard.

    Rafa has beaten Roger at Wimbledon and Roger is 0-6 against Rafa at RG. Rafa leads the H2H and at the age of 33 years old he has more GS and more masters 100 than Roger at the age of 35. Ok, he won the majority of his slams on clay, so? It was up to Federer to win more GS on his favorite surfaces.

    Objectively speaking Rafa is the greatest of all time.

      • The argument federer the goat It is indeed a laughing matter
        He will be surpassed by Nadal and the djoker.
        And He does not own 2 out of the 3 surfaces against Nadal!

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