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