Roger Federer, the long-time world No. 1 and current member of tennis’ triumvirate of power (with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal) holds the record for the most all-time grand slam singles titles by a good margin. He has 16 slam titles under his belt. Pete Sampras is second on the podium with 14 and Roy Emerson had 12.
However, the only active player even in the same atmosphere as Federer in terms of championship wins is the beloved, bouncy Spaniard, Rafael Nadal. Still, with 10 championships to his name, Nadal may be tied for sixth on the all-time Slam count, but with Djokovic, Federer and a handful of top-tier contenders to compete with, the six-Slam separation puts Nadal worlds behind Federer’s record.
But that doesn’t mean Nadal can’t creep his way up the list.
If Rafa wins even one Grand Slam in 2012, as I think he will, he’ll stand level with tennis greats Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg, both with 11 major championship wins.
Despite his seeming kryptonite in the form of Djokovic, world No. 1, Nadal is still the dominant player on the planet when playing on clay. This past year, Nadal claimed his only Slam title of the year with his sixth French Open win. With his reign on clay still largely undisputed, if Nadal remains healthy, it’s not too much of a stretch to forecast a win for him at the 2012 French Open.
The question is: Can Nadal rise to the Djokovic challenge, possibly even stealing one of the other majors, while surpassing Laver and Borg on the list of all time Slam champions?
Nadal’s best shot will be at the first major of the year in Melbourne. Australian Open courts are slightly slower than US Open hard courts, and the Aussie surface creates more spin, which will favor huge top-spin hitters like Nadal. Last year, we didn’t get to see Nadal in the Australian Open final because of his loss to countryman David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Of course, Nadal’s hamstring injury played a part in his defeat.
In 2012, if we see Nadal healthy and in top-form coming into the Australian Open, I think he’ll make the finals and be there to the last ball. Winning at this year-opening Slam would threaten Djokovic, and with the clay court season and the French Open next on the list of majors, Nadal could take two in a row, possibly resulting in dethroning Djokovic and reclaiming the No. 1 spot.
Djokovic is the only member of the big three yet to claim the career Slam, winning all four majors. He has never won at Roland Garros, and with Nadal poised to get back on top, I don’t think Djokovic will be able to stop him on the red clay.
I predict a comeback from Nadal. I think he’ll figure out how to take out Djokovic, and if he can get rolling at the start of the year, winning in Australia and at the French, Djokovic will feel the weight of physical and psychological defeat, making room once again at the top for the Spaniard to take the title and even more concretely affix his place in the annals of tennis lore.