Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in four sets Monday night to win the US Open for the first time and complete the Career Grand Slam at 24, just the seventh man to do so. He's also the first man to win the French, Wimbledon and US in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969.
But most importantly, this win takes Nadal's tally to nine Grand Slams, which is three more than Roger Federer, the greatest of all time according to many, had at the same age. So, bearing in mind that Rafa still has his prime years ahead of him and Fed just turned 29, who's the best player ever and what can we expect in the future?
Federer is clearly the more personable, and with Tiger Woods' demise, he could very well be the most marketable athlete in the world. But nothing is certain for him on the court.
Federer holds 16 Grand Slam titles, two more than the previous record set by Pete Sampras. He completed his Career Grand Slam last year at the French, his worst surface, but not against Nadal. Federer has looked out of sorts since his win at the Australian Open earlier this year, and he was dumped out in the quarterfinals of both the French and Wimbledon. By failing to reach this final, he has surrendered his No. 2 ranking for the second time this year.
Federer may be aging but he is still the most technically gifted and most complete tennis player in the game. He won't be playing too much longer, and he'll want to cement his legacy while he can. He knows Sampras was disappointed to see his record broken so quickly, and assuring that Nadal has as tough a time possible doing the same to him will be his main priority now.
But how will he do it? Nadal has shown he's capable of winning on all surfaces against all different opponents, most notably Federer himself. Nadal holds the edge in their head-to-head match-ups, most importantly winning six of their eight encounters in Grand Slam Finals, the two losses coming at Wimbledon. And now, Nadal knows how to pace his tennis throughout the year and which tournaments to forgo so he'll always be fresh when it counts.
Federer made his mark on history while Nadal was out injured, so maybe he'll take note of his recovery and be able to bounce back from his own poor form. And if he does, and he makes it to a final next year, it's inevitable he'll have to face Nadal. And at this point, Nadal has his rival's number memorized.
The fact that both players completed their Career Slams on their hardest surfaces is impressive, but the fact that neither had to go through each other to do so, takes a little bit of the shine off. We'll need to see Rafa prove his worth against Federer at the US some time, and Fed just needs to prove he can beat Rafa at a major before we make any final judgments.
Federer holds the edge at this point in time just because he's done so much more and his all-around game and personality are so appealing. But it's hard to imagine him beating Nadal anytime soon, so he better enjoy it while he can because Rafa is coming up a lot quicker than anyone expected.
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