Rafael Nadal: The Greatest? Unlikely

Boris GodzinevskiCorrespondent IIFebruary 22, 2009

I should start off by saying I played on the OTA, Ontario Tennis Association
quite extensively from '04-'06. That's nothing on the Tennis scene in the big
picture, but just to clarify I do love tennis and understand several elements of the

To my point about Nadal, he's a machine, and whether or not my steroid
accusation of him is true, his style of play is simply put, short term.

As any tennis player who's put in much of his or her time to competing in prize
tournaments will tell you, Nadal's style of game is the hardest road to take. In
that, instead of pursuing high rate accuracy and refined technique, Nadal takes
the physical approach.

To better outline this, I will use examples from various sports.

Nadal is an anomaly, he is not the norm, and there is a benefit and a negative to
this association. In recent times, since most readers here are below the age of 30 and choose not to rehash history (like archive footage ), Eric Lindros is the prime example of an anomaly in the National Hockey League.

He was labeled by many as the " Next One ", a spinoff from Gretzky, commonly noted as the " Great One."

Lindros' style of play was jaw dropping; he was Gretzky, but the complete image. For Gretzky was a weakling who required consistency on ice protection, his one single vote for Frank Selke Trophy nominee showcases his worthlessness on defense and his offensive prowess reliant on the cleaning men in front of him.

Gretzky played in the highest scoring era in NHL history, and if you spent the time, you would realize Bobby Hull, and not Wayne Gretzky, was the greatest goal scorer of all time.

That said, Lindros' all-around ability was hampered by the fact physicality and scoring became his center, the comparison to now high rise star Ovechkin is warranted, the only difference being Lindros played head down.

To go further into the history books, one would find Bobby Orr, quite possibly the greatest player in NHL history, yes, better than Gretzky because as a d-man, he won TWO Art Ross trophies, a mark never duplicated nor even touched (no other defencemen has ever won an Art Ross ).

But Bobby Orr and Eric Lindros's style of play was short term, they left nothing on the ice and thus their career ran short...Cam Neeley is another example.

In the NFL, there have been numerous short term greats, the most highlighted would have to be Gale Sayers, in most recent memory, Priest Holmes. Both were RBs who destroyed the league in TDs and ability to create plays, but both burned out due to injury.

This is not to say they do not deserve praise, Hall of Fame accolades and rankings in the All Time Greats. But, THE greatest is a Hall mark shared by the highly acclaimed, the winners that lasted.

To this point we come to define GREATEST in the sports arena:

Pele- European Football
Michael Jordan/Wilt Chamberlain- Basketball
Ali/Marciano/Louis- Boxing
Gretzky/Orr- Hockey
Cy Young/Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron/Cobb/Ted Williams- Baseball

There's too many positions in NFL Football, but the consensus is Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas on offense, and Dick Butkus on defense.Point stands most of the GREATEST EVER players played average or above average length in the elite players column.

Some can say if a player achieved extraordinary greatness in his relatively short career, he should be considered, well, you do have those players, they are few, the best example being Bobby Orr, because as a defenseman, he lead the league offensively as well.

So getting back to Tennis, where does that put Rafael Nadal? In our current era, winning the Calendar Grand Slam by a male is quite impossible, unlike back in Rod Laver's day, the only male player to complete the feat in the Open Era, there were two surfaces, not three, and the Aussie and French Opens were not of equal footing as Wimbledon and U.S. Open.

That said, if Nadal DID complete the Calendar Grand Slam, he COULD be considered the greatest ever right? Perhaps, but betting on that would give you great odds anyway, so go ahead.

Saying a player would have to accomplish a Calendar Grand Slam in men's Tennis to get consideration as the greatest ever would be similar to saying an NHL defenseman has to win the Points scoring title, goal scoring title, best defenseman, and most valuable player, Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner in one season, or in a three-year span...

Wait a minute, didn't Bobby Orr accomplish all that save for the goal scoring title ( he came in fifth one year )? Yeah...I keep getting back to hockey and Bobby Orr, but you see, for Rafael Nadal to become The Greatest Tennis Player of ALL Time, he would have to emulate the career of Bobby Orr...

In the Tennis World of course, and not only is that asking a lot, that's also asking Nadal to be close to perfect.

Roger Federer captured three of the four slams in a season, THREE times, unheard of to be done even once since the 1980s (Wilander 1988 ). Nadal himself has won two of the four Slam titles in one season, once, and even assuming he wins his fifth straight French Open title, a difficult task mentally (as it would be a record ) to win either Wimbledon or U.S. Open will not be anything near a certainty, let alone winning both.

This comes back to the "short term" knock against Nadal.

He's 22, and although that's a young age in most sports (common age for most rookies in the NFL ) that is nearing middle-age for male Tennis players, and with that comes middle-age crisis, no doubt being experienced by Federer the last 16 months.

So Nadal turns 23 in June, before the 2009 Wimbledon Championships.

Excellent, so let's once again assume Nadal wins his fifth consecutive French title, giving him seven total career Grand Slam titles.

His physical style of play relies on high agility, high speed, relative endurance to sustain those two qualities, and, of course, great work with the racket.

This is a fallback position in Tennis, we have all seen Nadal tired, perhaps he sweats more than the average human being, but he does get tired as well, before his match against Federer at the Aussie Open Final, the analysts showed the amount of meters run, and Nadal had more than double of Federer.

Of course he's younger, but he's still freakishly more athletic than the average player his age on tour, example, Andy Murray.

The downside to exacerbating this physical stride is the joints, although unlike NFL Football or NHL Hockey, there is no direct contact being made with the knees on a consistent basis, Tennis players run a hell of a lot more a year than football or hockey players (for sake of argument, we count skating as running).

Nadal's knees do take punishment, physical torment coming from OVER use.

This is more evident on hard surfaces, and the span between Aussie Open and U.S. Open is long. So we come to the probability of Nadal completing the vaunted Calendar Slam and what it would mean to his legacy.

The chances are not high, of course we will know the odds better nearing the season's end, but Nadal stands as the favorite to win in Paris, then the co-favorite with Federer to win Wimbledon, and then Federer most likely the favorite again to win the U.S. Open title.

So let's assume the future for a moment, the window for Nadal's superiority is smaller than Federer, if we are to count Federer's decline as natural and unforgiving, then Nadal has five seasons left to shine, including this one.

BUT, ignoring the physicality of Nadal's style of play would be foolish, and although we cannot simply decide how much less time he has until hitting the decline, similar to Federer, taking at least a year off would be logical and realistic.

So, counting this season, Nadal has four to work with.

He stands at six Grand Slams having won on all three surfaces, but failing to win all four Slams at any time, let alone all in the same year, or three of four.

Let's assume the following:

Nadal wins 2009 French Open and either Wimbledon or U.S. Open, giving him eight Career Slams.

He wins three of the four again in 2010, going to 11 Career Slams.

And even assume he does it again and wins three of four in 2011 to tie Sampras' 14.

He will have one more season or "prime" left, to maybe win, two Slams? Giving him a total of 16?

This is all ignoring the other top, young players, hitting their prime circle right now, in Murray, Djokovic, Simon, Tsonga, Wawrinka, Monfils, and Gulbis.

And the wild-card vets, which will include Federer up until 2012 (Federer states he will play at least to then).

So Nadal cannot truly surpass Federer's accomplishments in reality, he can come close, but there will be many knocks against him. The highlight of Federer's dominance is his five consecutive Slam titles on two different surfaces, grass at Wimbledon and hard court at U.S. Open.

The chances Nadal wins five in a row at Wimbledon or five in a row at say, the Aussie Open are mathematically against him, they were against Federer as well, but Federer employs a game plan that works on his accuracy, "grazing the line " shots and alike. Borg was the same if you watch his matches.

While Nadal really has no authentic comparison in his athleticism to past greats, it means that naturally (without steroids) he will decline much faster, and his goal for matching the total Slams will hinder on how long and how successful his prime is.

For the record, despite Nadal's long intervals between serves, he is a great player, a once in a generation player, and I think he is all but assured at least 10 Slams if not more.

But "THE GREATEST" accolade will be seldom used when regarding Nadal, because from what I can see, unless he win eight straight French Opens, he will most likely not hold the all time Slam record, and lack a consistent rival of his age, and a rival period once Federer ceases to make Slam Finals on a continuous basis.


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