From watching the past few years of tennis, one might conclude that Rafael Nadal is the kryptonite to the "Superman" that is Roger Federer. He has gone stroke-for-stroke with the Swiss champion, and more times than not, come out on top. There are thoughts that one day Nadal will surpass Fed-Ex in tournament wins and Grand Slam titles.
With all of this talk of Nadal and his greatness, many seem to believe that he is stealing Fed's thunder and time in the spotlight. That may be true for the moment, but I'm here to contend that what Nadal is actually doing is helping Federer's legacy.
It's quite simple, you see: Nadal makes Roger's career more legitimate and substantial. Before Rafa came onto the scene, when all the talk was Federer and how long it would take him to pass Sampras in the career Grand Slam total, many still believed that no matter how many Slams Roger won, Pete (or one of many others) would still be considered greater players than he.
It comes down to the level of competition. Before Nadal, there were no great players to help beef up Roger's résumé of wins. There was the old (yet still somewhat competitive) duo of Sampras and Agassi that were basically on their way out for retirement, a self-destructing time bomb Marat Safin, a struggling Lleyton Hewitt, a very inconsistent Andy Roddick, and a few others.
During the times of truly great champions in tennis, every player has had someone that was their great rival, someone to help push them and make their careers more relevant. For Sampras, it was Agassi and Courier; for John McEnroe, it was Bjorg and Connors; and for Laver, it was Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, and Arthur Ashe.
Nadal has become that "great rival" for Federer; without him Fed's career would be greatly decreased in importance. Together, they have produced some of the greatest sporting contests our generation has seen. Just take a look at tomorrow's French Open final, for example, if you need proof. Without Nadal, it would go down as just another Grand Slam for Fed, a "yawner." He is highly favored to win against an inferior opponent.
No one will look back at this French Open and talk about how great Federer played. Instead, they'll speak of how fortunate he was to not have to play Nadal, the player who has most helped Roger's legacy and career.