Rafael Nadal made an interesting remark as he closed his post-French Open interview with Johnny Mac on TV. He said that he had his eye on the US Open!
Does this mean that Rafa will devote some of his considerable energy and focus this year to achieving the career Grand Slam with a win at the US Open?
Might he consider not playing one of the two North American Master's Series tournaments in order to be fresh for the USO?
As Rafa is fond of saying "anything can happen," it's too soon for anything more than speculation about what such a win might mean. But the value of such speculation is the perspective that it casts on looming Wimbledon, 2010.
Consider this. For many, a player with eight major titles to their name separates the great legends of the sport from other merely greats. It may seem a bit irrational, but it is one measure that separates a say John McEnroe (only merely great) from Rod Laver (a truly great legend of the sport); its a measure that separates a Stefan Edberg from say Ken Rosewall.
If Rafa got the USO, and had:
1.Career Grand Slam,
2.Olympics gold medal in singles,
3.Davis Cup (multiple times),
4.The record for Masters Series shields,
5.The Channel Slam, (achieving the back-to-back clay and grass court majors)
6.A minimum of eight majors in his career
7.Become the first man in the history of tennis to win a tournament six straight times (Monte Carlo)
8.Become the first man in history to sweep all four clay court significant events in the same year (three Master's Series and the French Open) - winning one tournament with the loss of just 14 games in five matches
--- he would be one of the sport's all-time legends. If he adds to his count of majors any more than eight, and eclipses Bjorn Borg’s clay court record, then, having a significant winning record over Roger Federer, I think he should be considered for the GOAT.
Consider that Roger Federer only has three of the six items in the list above!
I'm not saying that Roger is not the GOAT. Roger is a living legend. It is a unique privilege for fans today to be able to watch him perform, as he continues to play at his peak (despite his recent loss at Halle to Lleyton Hewitt).
But these types of issues have got to be on Rafael Nadal's mind. He would never say so in public, of course. But if you are 24 years old, and have already won seven majors, you have to start looking around for things to motivate you. The great Bjorn Borg quit at the age of 26!
I can't say what is on Rafael Nadal's mind these days, nor what any great champion thinks. But if this sort of speculation occurs to me (while driving in rush hour traffic with nothing else to contemplate), surely it cannot have escaped the notice of Uncle Toni and others who work closely with Rafa.
Of course other great players are part of the up-and-coming bunch, and many commentators have noted that the next 'era' may belong to these tall guys who hit with power from the baseline, but are good movers as well: Del Potro, Soderling, Cilic, Isner, among others. This youngster from Argentina who is now playing in the US by the name of Andrea Collarini may eclipse the likes of Federer and Nadal.
But as of this writing, it is not clear that any of that crew will have the longevity that is required to build up the career statistics that are included in the list above.
What does this mean for this year's Wimbledon? It may mean that Rafa's focus is not entirely on Wimbledon. And/or that his overall goal is an overhaul of his game that may not be complete at this year's Wimbledon, but may allow him to be successful in September.
Rafa will always be motivated to win Wimbledon. But as he contemplates the potential fragility of his knees, he's got to be thinking about what is the most important thing he needs to do to cement his legacy in the sport while he can.
What an interesting 2010 it has turned out to be! How different from this time last year, when we celebrated Roger's return to the top of the game, and wondered if Rafa would ever be the same again.