Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2020 French Open.
Nadal Wins this 13th French Open Title
Rafael Nadal staked his claim atop the throne of men’s tennis over the previous two weeks.
Over the weekend, the Spaniard added a 13th career title in Roland-Garros, absolutely trouncing Novak Djokovic to the tune of 6-0, 6-2 and 7-5 in a stunning display of dominance that rendered the supposed current best player on the ATP utterly hopeless.
There really isn’t that much to say other than the fact that this was a Nadal at the absolute peak of his powers, playing an opponent who really couldn’t do quite enough no matter what he tried. Sometimes, it’s that simple: one player was just better—and in the case of clay courts, that player usually is Nadal.
The win gives the 34-year-old 100 career wins at the French Open, against only two losses, and brings him levelled with Roger Federer with 20 career Grand Slam titles for the most in history.
In light of this, we thought of using today’s column to make a case for each of Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic as the greatest player in men’s tennis history. As always, remember the most important thing here.
Pre #FrenchOpen final musings: Nadal is the best clay player ever, Federer is the best grass player ever and Djokovic is the best hard court player ever. Just enjoy them while you can.
— Kevin GardnerGregory (@KevinGarGre) October 11, 2020
The Case for Roger Federer
Not only does Federer have the most career Grand Slam titles, but he has the second most titles ever—and he’s only six behind a man who played until he was 43 years old. The Swiss has held the No. 1 ranking for the longest time in history at 310 weeks and finished as the year-end No. 1 five times in his career. Federer has also the most Wimbledon titles in history and is one of a handful of players with the career Grand Slam. (Though that doesn’t mean much here.)
The Case Against Roger Federer
Those 20 Grand Slam titles lose a bit of their shine after Nadal’s tied the mark over this past weekend. Not only that, but the Swiss won all but a four of them facing lesser players than his two rivals in the final: Mark Philippoussis and Fernando Gonzalez pale in comparison to Nadal and Djokovic. Federer also sports a negative head-to-head record against the other men on this list; how can he be the best ever if he’s not the best of his era?
The Case for Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal has the most Grand Slam titles of all time at 20, a mark he shares with the player we’ve just talked about, and the fourth most singles titles ever. His dominance has been built extensively around the clay courts, and what a dominance it has been: 13 of his 20 major titles have come at Roland-Garros. Can you imagine how many majors Nadal would have if two Grand Slams every year were played on clay rather than hard courts? Of the 20 majors he won, he’s had to defeat Djokovic or Federer in the final for 11 of them. The Spaniard has been ranked No. 1 for 209 weeks and the year-end No. 1 five times as well. He has the career Grand Slam too and a singles gold medal from the 2008 Olympic Games, as well as the highest career win percentage ever.
The Case Against Rafael Nadal
The 34-year-old is definitely the greatest clay court player of all time, but does that have to make him the greatest overall player ever? Nadal would surely have more than 20 career Grand Slam titles if two Slams were played on clay, but the reality is that only one of them is; let’s not look at suppositions. To top it off, while Nadal may have a positive record head-to-head against Federer, this isn’t the case against the next player on the list. The Spaniard has also been ranked the No. 1 player by far the fewest number of weeks from this trio, suggesting someone who was always functioning best as the foil to the then-current best player throughout his career.
The Case for Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic holds the edge in head-to-head record against both Nadal and Federer and will likely surpass Federer as the player with the most weeks ranked at No. 1 by the time he retires. He is also the all-time leader in prize money and sports the second highest career win percentage ever. His 17 career majors lack in comparison but factor in ATP World Tour Finals and Masters 1000, and suddenly it’s Djokovic who has the advantage. He has completed the career Grand Slam and at one point held all four singles Grand Slam titles at once. His decade from 2010-2020, where he won 16 Grand Slam titles and made another nine Grand Slam finals, is about as dominant a decade as we’ve ever seen in men’s tennis.
The Case Against Novak Djokovic
It’s pretty simple really: like it or not, Djokovic is three major titles behind both men on this list. That has to mean something and should take precedence over any and every other factor.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG