Nadal’s Number Nine

23:14 Tue 14 Sep 2010
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Rafael Nadal completed his career Grand Slam yesterday, beating Novak Djokovic in four rain-delayed sets. That’s Nadal’s ninth Grand Slam title—and his third in a row. He is clearly the best player in the world right now, and dropped only a single set—in the final—on his way to the only title that had eluded him thus far.

This was the first Grand Slam final I haven’t watched in quite some time. The rain delay almost made it possible, but not quite. I was sorry to miss it, although I was also quite down about Federer’s absence from it. I didn’t see his semifinal, either, although I did listen to it and have seen the last game. I don’t know what happened to Federer after his quarterfinal against Söderling, in which his form was simply overwhelming. Against Djokovic, he seemed to just fade away for large stretches, and of course the forehand simply deserted him. You could attribute that to Djokovic’s pressure, but I don’t think so. It’s unfortunately possible that Federer can’t maintain the consistency for long enough stretches anymore, although I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on that front.

The last game was very rough, and if Federer couldn’t break there, with Djokovic clearly suffering from nerves and possibly fatigue and generally just offering the game up on a platter, then his form is in serious trouble. In some ways I find that loss to Djokovic more worrying than the losses to Berdych and Söderling.

Nadal, on the other hand, is displaying no mental frailty whatsoever, instead playing impeccable tennis and ripping opponents to shreds. Three Slams in a row; he’s the first to do that since Federer (who never did those three in a row, but rather Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open). What’s more, he has a strong shot at becoming the first player since Laver to hold all the Slams at the same time—he just has to win the Australian Open. Will Federer—or anyone else—be able to stop him?

If not, then Nadal will have a legitimate claim to being the best player in history. The number of Slams would still favor Federer, but the distance between them would be much less. That would give him an achievement Federer doesn’t have, and a significant one. I still regard Federer as the greatest player of all time, but Nadal could surpass him. That’s difficult for this Federer fan to admit, and I would absolutely love to see Federer raise his own game and defend his greatest-of-all-time status.

The year-end championships may tell us something, but tennis history will be affected very strongly by next year’s Australian Open.

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