Comparing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: Are We Overlooking Rafa?

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Comparing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: Are We Overlooking Rafa?
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

It has become apparent to me that the tennis world is in waiting for one of two things to happen: either Roger Federer to reclaim the No. 1 ranking or Andy Murray to claim the No. 1 ranking.

Many of the articles written on the Internet and even on this website seem to think it a foregone conclusion that at some point this year Rafael Nadal will relinquish his hold on the top ranking.

What is ever more revealing is the treatment Nadal receives from TV commentators such as Darren Cahill, Patrick McEnroe, and Justin Gimelstob.

McEnroe’s commentary following Federer’s loss to Nadal at the Australian Open was absolutely downright disrespectful to Nadal. Deciding that the first man since Andre Agassi to win a slam on three different surfaces was not worthy of talking about, McEnroe decided to make a public plea for Roger to get a coach.

The writers in this department of Bleacher Report are not innocent either. We have seen power rankings that have not had Nadal at number one, people who prior to Indian Wells were calling Andy Murray the best player in the world, despite the fact that Nadal had just won the Australian Open in dramatic fashion.

Some readers have gone so far as to threaten writers who write negative articles about Roger Federer with bodily harm.

So what is the problem?

There are many.

This writer believes that one of the main issues is an underlying racial issue in tennis. It is a sport dominated by white Anglo-Saxons, from its players to its officials to its fans. 

A comparative look at both Nadal’s career and Federer’s career up to age 22 respectively shows that Nadal has six Grand Slam titles to Federer’s two. Nadal owns the better winning percentage as well as more Masters titles.

Going back to Pete Sampras, we see similar results. It took Sampras until 1995 at the age of 24 to accumulate six Slam titles.

Furthermore, Nadal has pulled off the French Open and Wimbledon sweep, won an Olympic gold medal, and won a Davis Cup championship—and not to add insult to injury, but all of his Grand Slam victories, save one, have come at the expense of Roger Federer.

Yet unless he is fresh off another tournament win, Nadal is still considered the second best player in the world.

The problem is complex, as are most racially laced issues.

As mentioned above, tennis is a sport dominated by the white upper class of society.

This is of no fault to anyone.

However, what many people do not know is that to play and be competitive in tennis, one must be placed into very demanding coaching programs and travel around his or her respective country to play in “Junior” level tournaments.

This is not only not practical for a young child, it is also not affordable for anyone but the wealthy.

Even the title head of this article, Nadal, grew up in a wealthy family and was afforded the opportunities to play tennis with the world's best from a young age.

However, Nadal is the exception in the non-white world. Many of your other non-white tennis players received scholarships to play at elite youth training camps or were fortunate enough to grow up under the tutelage of a family member who understood the game enough to impart wisdom on the young player.

In a world dominated by white society, is it any surprise that Nadal is time after time regarded as an above average player who played in the time of Roger Federer?

The second major issue is what I will term the “Roger Federer complex.” As tennis fans, we were spoiled by Federer’s success and became used to having a player be consistently unbeatable.

Is this “complex” factually based?

I would argue that it is not. The caliber of player that Federer competed against during the years of his dominance is nowhere near the caliber of player associated with the men’s tour at the moment or in years past.

His highest competition was from Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt; while slightly above average players, their skill level is not in the same league as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

One could argue that with the subtraction of a player here or there, any one of the four could currently be the World No. 1.

This is not a knock on any of Roger Federer’s accomplishments—they are otherworldly—but if we as tennis fans are going to give credit where credit is due, we have to recognize that at this point in their respective careers Nadal has outdone Federer in virtually every statistical category.

Which brings me to my last and final point.

Roger Federer is most likely the greatest ambassador tennis has ever had.

He will go down right next to Billie Jean King.

When I do have kids, I want to pop in Wimbledon DVDs and tell my children, “look kids, this is how it is done.”

We have to realize that Federer is so likeable because he speaks four different languages, he is a public figure, and he enjoys the limelight.

Rafael Nadal is the polar opposite. I am willing to bet that after Nadal retires from tennis, he will disappear to Majorca only to be seen on rare occasions.

He enjoys his home, his family, and his privacy.

Not to say that Federer does not enjoy the same, but Federer does embrace being the center of attention.

This has led to a love affair with Federer, and deservedly so.

However, as tennis fans we should realize that whether we like it or not, Federer’s reign is coming to an end.

In light of being great tennis fans and great human beings, let's give some credit where credit is due and praise today’s champion—Rafael Nadal.

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