Is Rafael Nadal the best ever tennis player? Simple answer: We don’t know yet. To borrow a line from the iconic movie Working Girl, “If you want a different answer, ask a different girl.” Please read no further if you require a definitive proclamation that Rafa’s epochal 2022 Roland Garros title cements his status as The “Greatest of all time” (GOAT for short).
GOAT is a moniker applied to iconic athletes after their career is over and we have the benefit of perspective. Think Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.
Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer? They’re not done yet. The future is unwritten. That includes the immediate future, with a wide-open 2022 Wimbledon staring us in the face. Why would this GOAT question need to be determined this minute?
I’m not opposed to the debate itself. It’s fun and enhances many fans’ enjoyment of the sport. But I question why people would rush to proclaim GOAT a done-deal, rather than reveling in the process of its determination. Even with their advancing age, the Big 3 are still making an effort to give us incredible moments. This includes Roger Federer, who still has yet to retire, despite being summarily told for years that he should retire, he must retire and he actually did retire. Imagine doing your job– having great success– and being put on retirement-watch from about the halfway point of your career. Why do we do this?
Currently Rafa holds the granddaddy of records, which is the base Slam tally at 22. Djokovic and Federer remain two behind. For Novak especially, the youngest of the Big 3, that mark is very much within reach. Each of the Big 3 holds a basket of records, milestones and achievements that will ultimately put their greatness into context.
Nadal’s 14 French Open titles is the runaway record for most at Roland Garros and the most of any one Grand Slam. He’s also the oldest man to take home the trophy in Paris.
Djokovic holds a host of admirable achievements related to World Number 1, including most career weeks at number 1 and most year-end finishes as World Number 1. These are considerable accomplishments with no end in sight.
Federer’s shining triumphs relate to grass. His 8 Wimbledon titles make him the most successful man on that surface. The Swiss Maestro also has the most ATP Finals trophies with six.
Since Nadal just won Roland Garros again– and given his injuries– it’s interesting to look at which of the Big 3 has the highest Grand Slam win rate. In other words, what is the percentage of Grand Slams entered that the players went on to win?
In this category, Nadal fares well. Of the Big 3, Nadal owns the highest percentage of Grand Slams won out of Grand Slams entered. Rafa stands at 34% in that category, while Djokovic comes in at 30% and Federer is at 25%. It speaks to efficiency, but it also is indicative of Nadal’s compilation and deftness in this one Slam– Roland Garros.
Nadal’s Prospects for Wimbledon
Despite a dizzying array of false reports leading up to the Roland Garros final that Nadal would announce his retirement after the match, the King of Clay did just the opposite. He left open the possibility that he’ll play Wimbledon in a few weeks, declaring, “If my body allows me, I will be there.”
Rafa described in a little more detail the pre-match nerve-deadening injections to his foot that he had to endure in order to compete and win the French Open. He says he will not do the same for Wimbledon. Nadal will undergo a procedure to address the foot within days. If it words, Wimbledon is not out of the range of possibility, but he will not do the injections to play grass.
It’s a reminder not to put the retirement cart before the horse. Let’s enjoy the present moment. The GOAT debate can be settled in the later part of this decade, while we are enjoying watching players like Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune try to win Grand Slams. We’ll have plenty of time to reflect on GOATS.