Rafael Nadal: What Would a Win at Wimbledon 2011 Mean for His Legacy?

Michael LanichCorrespondent IJune 17, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 04:  Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the Championship trophy after winning the Men's Singles Final match against Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic on Day Thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 4, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

With each passing year and each Slam win, Rafael Nadal's legacy as one of the all-time great players in tennis history continues to grow.  With his most recent win at Roland Garros over Roger Federer, he has finally hit what I like to call "The Legends Plateau."  This is the moment when you amass 10 Slam titles or more.  When you reach this level of success in your career, your legacy is rock solid.

But for Nadal, continuing to climb that basalt pinnacle to the top to join or surpass Roger Federer means you have to keep winning those titles that mean more than any other.  Despite being on tour for many years now, Nadal is a newly minted 25-year-old player who is sitting pretty in the middle of the best years of a tennis player's career (ages 22-27).

At this point, Nadal has won six titles at Roland Garros, two titles at Wimbledon and one apiece at the U.S. Open and Australian Open respectively.  At some point, the number of Slam titles you have won is what really matters, regardless of how they are split up.  

Bjorn Bjorg won 11 titles for his career before abruptly retiring at 26 years old, but "only" managed to win six titles at Roland Garros and five at Wimbledon.  He rarely played Australian and was thwarted in the finals of the U.S. Open on multiple occasions.  He never won the career Slam, and today that is not held against him because what he did in his time was amazing.

But let's face it.  No matter how many slam titles you win on other surfaces, no surface or title means more to your legacy than Wimbledon.  Winning this title makes even one slam wonders far greater than the rest of their resume might indicate.  Adding multiple Wimbledon titles to an already impressive resume is like putting the cherry on the top of an amazing sundae.  In Nadal's case, that would be a couple of cherries.

Another Wimbledon title would give Nadal three titles at the All England Club, further cementing his legacy as one of Centre Court's all-time great champions.  Furthermore, negative talk about Nadal's legacy being built only on clay (that surface some fans like to rail against) would have to grudgingly begin to dissipate.  

Add in at least another title each at the U.S. Open and Australian Open, and I'm not sure any fan could say much on the subject, regardless of how many titles Nadal ultimately wins at Roland Garros.

Another reason a third Wimbledon title would further Nadal's legacy is, fans.  Whether you're a die-hard tennis fan, a casual fan or some newbie who barely knows the rules, if there is one match you're probably going to watch all year, it's the final of Wimbledon.  

Roger Federer has won Slams on other surfaces, but his legacy is built more on Wimbledon's green stuff than on any other surface, even hard courts which account for nine of his titles.  Nadal may never tie or surpass Federer in Slam titles won on this surface, but with each Wimbledon title he does manage to win, his versatility and overall greatness become topics that cannot be disputed by even the biggest Nadal hater.

Nadal winning Wimbledon again this year would also give him a third "Channel Slam," termed for a player winning both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year when both are separated by only a few weeks.  Bjorn Borg won the "Channel Slam" three consecutive times from 1978-1980, a feat that is as remarkable as anything in tennis history.  

Since then, Nadal has done it twice (2008, 2010) and Roger Federer has achieved it once (2009).  Despite it being done three years in a row now, it's also the first to be done since Borg.

Defending Wimbledon is also a feat that I am sure Nadal would like to accomplish at least once in his career.  I doubt he will defend it year after year like Federer has done in years past, but I think winning Wimbledon as a defending champion will prove to Nadal that he truly deserves to be considered one of the greats of both the game itself and Wimbledon.  

Defending champion of Roland Garros is one thing, but Wimbledon is quite another feat entirely.

Whether Nadal wins just one more Wimbledon, or ends up adding two or three more titles to his already glittering collection remains to be seen, but hey—who wouldn't want to add more cherries to the top of their sundae?