Rafael Nadal Should Equal Roger Federer's Slam Mark in 2016

Andrew Prochnow@@AndrewProchnowAnalyst IJuly 16, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01:  Rafael Nadal of Spain consoles Roger Federer of Switzerland during the trophy presentation after his men's final match during day fourteen of the 2009 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on  February 1, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

With the 2014 Wimbledon Championships fading into tennis history, the paramount question going forward still appears to be Rafael Nadal's ability to tie or eclipse the all-time Grand Slam mark set by Roger Federer.

An epic record of 17 major titles that was set over two years ago at the same site in which Federer just lost possibly his last chance at No. 18.

Novak Djokovic, up 5-2 in the fourth set of the 2014 final, clearly got tense in completing what would eventually become Federer's second loss in a major final to a man not named Rafael Nadal. Federer is 15-2 in major finals that don't include Rafa and then 2-6 in Slam finals that featured the Swiss Maestro versus the man from Mallorca (aggregate 17-8).

A slim margin of only three titles now separates Federer's 17 and Nadal's 14. Barring further injury to Nadal in the next couple years, it's entirely conceivable that Nadal could tie Federer's mark by the end of 2016. Eclipsing it would then be possible in 2017.

Winning 14 titles over the last 10 calendar years, Nadal has therefore averaged 1.4 majors per season since his career took flight. That includes two titles in 2013 and a run of three straight Slam finals that saw him claim one more at the 2014 French Open.

Based on this history, it's completely plausible that Nadal could come up with three major victories in the next nine events. In the previous nine, Nadal has eerily also claimed three (four if you include the last 10). 

These figures suggest that the real questions going forward involve Nadal's health and Federer's likelihood of adding to his record haul. 

As for Federer, I personally believed prior to the 2014 season that he had one more title in him. However, I think Djokovic may have stolen that one away. While I continue to believe Federer will be a force on tour for the next couple of years, I don't see him lifting another major title in his career. 

The legions of Federer fans around the world who passionately support their man will likely disagree with that assertion, and loudly. The fact remains that Federer hasn't won a major or a Masters 1000 title since August of 2012—not a short period of time, by any means—and the sands of time continue to run.

Regardless, the bigger focus going forward will certainly be on Nadal, not Federer. It is Rafa who now must scale the steepest part of the mountain, and the gravity of this final effort will only get heavier as he closes on the peak.

The 2014 U.S. Open will obviously be a critical testing ground for Nadal's current comfort and future success on hard court. Rafa became the first player since Andy Roddick in 2003 to sweep the late-season U.S. hard-court swing in 2013 when he won in Montreal, Cincinnati and New York in succession.

Nadal underscored his newfound prowess on cement when he followed right up with an appearance in the 2014 Australian Open final.

One has to think that Rafa will be favored to win at least one title in the next three Slams. Even if that means shaking the monkey off his back Down Under. 

At that point, potentially sitting just two behind Roger Federer, it will be interesting to see if Nadal can tap a new level of motivation and fight. 

A scary thought for those already familiar with Nadal's game.

If Nadal can indeed add one more title in the near future and look across a competitive valley only two Slams wide, the men's international tennis tour will likely achieve a new all-time level of interest.

On one side will be the Swiss lion's fans, hoping that their man can withstand the final onslaught of the gladiator from Spain. On the other will be those who have believed in Rafa since he first vanquished the mighty Federer on the dirt of Paris in 2005. 

In the entire history of tennis, this final chase could very well be the sport's greatest window. 

And it will probably end as it should—with the sunset of this golden age of tennis just as fiercely contested as the dawn.