The face of determination
Rafael Nadal. The man, the myth, the legend. With nine grand slam titles, a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and three Spanish Davis Cup team victories, his reputation of greatness precedes him.
Rafa plays with a fierce tenacity on the court—no matter the score, one can never count him out of the match. And better yet, Nadal continues to improve each year. Whether it be his dominance on all surfaces to strengthening his serve, this bull fighter has yet to reach his plateau.
Of course, on the other hand, there is Roger Federer. Coined the GPOAT (Greatest Player of All Time), his reign of terror is complete. No longer the most dominant player on the tour, Federer is ready for his burial at sea.
OK, maybe that is taking things too far, but the passing of the torch is upon us. Strike that, it has already happened. And if you don't believe me, then prepare yourself for 10 reasons why Nadal has surpassed "The Great One Blessed Be He."
2008 Wimbledon Championships
I've never understood why Roger Federer claimed the title "Greatest Ever," when in his own era of dominance someone continually dominated him. Case in point, Nadal leads 16-8 in their head-to-head match ups (Nadal leads 11-2 on clay; Federer leads 2-1 on grass and they are tied 4-4 on hard court).
Sure, the Federer fans will claim 11 of those wins came on clay, which is Nadal's best surface, but so what? When it comes to Federer's best surface—the grass court—Nadal has matched the boy wonder in all facets. Need I remind you of the epic 2008 Wimbledon Final 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7?
A King Enjoying His Crown
Nadal has won the French Open five times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010). And if things go as planned, he could certainly pick up another title this year. That would tie him with the current record holder of Roland Garros titles, Bjorn Borg.
While Djokovic did defeat Nadal in the Madrid championship match last week, my money is still on Rafa. He is nicknamed "The King of Clay" for a reason, right? Indeed he is.
Nadal has an uncanny ability to neutralize every point on the clay. He sometimes even goes above and beyond working himself out of a defensive position by hitting an unbelievable winner or simply grinding his way to the offensive. This can be taught, but for Nadal it is innate, just one of the many reasons he has surpassed Mr. Federer.
To be a great athlete, one needs a great fist pump. Nadal certainly fits the bill on this end. From the beginning of the match when he sprints to the baseline, throughout match play, Nadal knows how to get pumped.
And when you see him break out the fist pump, either the single pump or the pump with a leg lift, you know the momentum has shifted. I'm not saying Federer does not have a good fist pump because, in all honesty, he does, but the edge goes to Nadal for sure.
His ferocity on the court is unparalleled which is purely illuminated by his athleticism, shot making ability and calls of VAMOS!
Unlike Federer's graceful style of play, Nadal is known more for his brute force, punishing ground strokes, and athletic prowess. The other major difference between the players is that Federer is a righty and Nadal is a lefty.
Oh wait, no, Nadal is actually right-handed but his Uncle Toni had the foresight to put the racquet in his left hand as a kid and have him learn the game from a whole new perspective. Successful choice? I'd say so.
Even though Nadal plays with his non-dominant hand, he has fine tuned the technique such that I'd hate to think how he would have done as a righty. Yeah Nadal may not look like a ballerina gracing us with pirouettes on the tennis court; but rather, he looks like a mighty specimen of intimidating proportions about to unleash a can of whoop a** on the ball.
But if I wanted grace and elegance, I'd buy tickets for the ballet. If I want to see true athleticism, my hat will always tip in favor of Nadal.
In terms of humility, this is where Nadal surpassed Federer long ago. I know I will take some flack for saying this, and perhaps it is just the Swiss-German culture, but Federer does not come off as being Mr. Humble.
I still recall after he won his 15th grand slam title and as soon as the TV programming broke to a commercial break, we were bombarded with Federer hauling around his 15 trophies. I'm sorry but what is humble about that?
Nadal, on the other hand, makes no excuses for his losses and never overly praises himself for his wins. It is what it is and then he is back to work. No tears, no whining, just let's get the job done and do it again.
I likey... a lot
Tennis has never really been a sport of flashy colors and fun wardrobes, but thanks to a few modern athletes, the tide has changed. On the women's side, the shout out probably is most deserving for the Williams' sisters, but on the men's side I want to throw a little credit in Nadal's direction.
In his early days on the tour, he proudly showed off his guns in the muscle shirts and pedal pushers. Deciding to go for a more mature look Nadal has, in the past few years, color coordinated his shirts, shorts and shoes.
Of course, the other players have begun to follow suit, Federer included. But let's be honest, Nadal often has more exciting looks and colorful outfits that only serve to illuminate his already well-rounded game.
Attacking the ball at the net
For someone who was pigeonholed early as a great clay court player but not much else, Nadal has certainly proved the naysayers wrong. Each year it seems like this kid gets better in a different area of his game.
In the modern era, coming to the net for a volley is more or less an afterthought, but Nadal can volley with the best of them. Whenever he can, Nadal looks to take the offensive and attack the net.
Secondly, in the past year or so, Nadal has dramatically improved his serve. With the speed gun reading 120 mph and above, Nadal has changed his serve from a whatever shot into a legitimate weapon, one that has proven worthwhile on the grass and hard courts.
And speaking of different surfaces, Nadal is one of the few clay court specialists to have translated his built in assets as well as improving upon his weaknesses. This has, in effect, developed him into an every day, all-court player.
Federer, on the other hand, has always played within his abilities, and because his abilities have been amazing, he was able to dominant the circuit. But unlike Nadal, we rarely saw dramatic improvements made to his game each year. Rather he started with a head start, and now because of age, the rise of new tennis threats, etc. the world is catching up.
Nadal will never be satisfied with his game, and because of that, he will always be great.
Nadal hanging on the streets of NYC with the US Open trophy
What separates talent and athletic ability from ultimate greatness? Well many sports psychologists would say, "It is what lies between the ears." In order to make it onto the ATP Tour one has to have skill, but the ones who truly differentiate and separate from the pack are those who focus as much on hitting winners as they do on their mental toughness.
Nadal is a perfect example. In both the 2008 Wimbledon Final and the 2009 Australian Open Final, the Nadal/Federer match went to five sets, but it was Nadal who came out victorious. Again, I'm not going to argue that Federer lacks mental toughness—clearly he has some to have achieved the accolades he has—but I will argue that Nadal is mentally tougher and his head to head record only serves to prove that point.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, Nadal is the one to get the job done.
Not yet 25 (will be on June 3rd), Nadal has already claimed nine grand slam titles. He is more than halfway to Federer's total of 16. Additionally, Nadal is five years younger than Federer, so he still has plenty of time, in his prime, to catch up or even take over the record.
Nadal is also the youngest man to complete the career grand slam (winning on all four majors), a feat he completed in 2010 with his U.S. Open win. And it was also in 2010 that Nadal went on a streak of winning three straight majors beginning with the French.
Obviously, if we are to compare grand slam records, finals appearances, consecutive semis made, etc., Federer would undoubtedly be in the lead, but Nadal still has time on his side. And even within the years of Federer producing all of his records, Nadal owned him in the grand slam finals. Case in point.
Spanish Davis Cup Team Victorious
In the previous slide, I noted all of Rafa's grand slam accomplishments, and now it is time to extend the list. Not only has he championed nine grand slam tourneys, but he has also earned a gold medal (2008 Beijing Olympics) as well as helping the Spanish Davis Cup team win three titles. The gold medal win made Nadal only one of two players to complete the Career Golden Slam (winner of all four majors and a gold medal; Agassi is the other).
Honestly, I am not sure why this is even up for debate but clearly it is the donning of a new era (though the Nadal era has been ripe for the picking since 2005 when he won his first French Title). The kid is legit, and while Federer may remain as a warm and fuzzy spot in many people's hearts, his time as King is buh-bye.
Nadal has surpassed Federer in just about every way possible. The one thing he needs in order to officially secure the crown is at least seven more major titles. And I'm confident that day will come. Here's to No. 10 on the red clay this month...VAMOS RAFA!