After French Open victory, can Rafael Nadal topple Roger Federer's Grand Slam record?
Rafael Nadal’s 10th French Open victory was his 15th Grand Slam title overall. With Roger Federer leading the way on 18, can the Spaniard chase down his friendly foe?
Against all the odds, the greats keep getting greater.
The year began with Federer on 17 Grand Slam titles, three more than Nadal – who was level with Pete Sampras on 14. It had been five years since Federer last tasted Grand Slam glory, while Nadal was hoping to end a three-year wait.
And now, after the opening two majors of the year, we find that Federer and Nadal are champions once more.
The duo have shown that being 30-something is no longer a hindrance in tennis.
At 35, Federer has redefined our expectations of veterans on the ATP Tour, meaning those who have just joined the 30 club – namely Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic – will have hopes of remaining at the top of the game for years to come.
And having won the French Open at the age of 31, Nadal becomes just the 12th man to win a GS title in his 30s. La Decima proved to be his 15th GS victory overall, meaning he trails Federer’s record haul by just three.
Can Nadal really catch Federer?
It’s a question we never thought we’d be asking in 2017. We shouldn’t be asking it. But we are.
First things first, it could have been so much closer.
Had Nadal held onto his advantage in the fifth set of the Australian Open final earlier this year, we would be looking at Federer on 17, with the Spaniard just behind on 16.
However, Federer’s resolve helped him overcome Nadal Down Under, and though that healthy gap has since been closed, the Swiss is in a strong position to hold off his greatest rival.
With regards to Wimbledon, Federer is in a strong position to take home Grand Slam No.19.
The bookies make him second favourite behind Andy Murray, and having missed out on the clay court season to focus on grass, Federer will be primed to challenge at SW19, having last lifted the trophy in 2012 at Murray’s expense.
Nadal would have to go some to reduce the deficit at Wimbledon. The Spaniard was absent last year, while he has failed to progress beyond the fourth round in the previous four attempts.
Having last sampled Wimbledon glory in 2010, a victory for Nadal on grass would be nothing short of a shock – his best chance of catching Federer is by hoping the Swiss fails to take home the crown.
Looking further forward, the US Open is always difficult to predict. Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic have become first-time Grand Slam winners at Flushing Meadows in recent years, with victory more about outlasting your opponents in terms of fitness nine months into the tennis season.
Federer has not won the US since 2008, and he has lost three finals since. Meanwhile, Nadal last lifted the trophy in 2013, but has struggled recently having exited in the fourth round in 2016.
Given Nadal’s surge to world number two this year, it would be foolish to rule him out of clinching another Grand Slam title in 2017, but he would have to put aside recent struggles in London and New York to do so.
Nadal’s chance of catching Federer comes down to two factors.
Firstly, Federer’s longevity. The Swiss has shown no intention to retire from the Tour, but his body could decide that for him in the coming years.
In order to reach 20 Grand Slam titles, Federer knows he must strike while the racquet is hot. It’s why he withdrew from the French, because he is aware that Wimbledon is there for the taking. And with the US always up for grabs, the 35-year-old will fancy his chances stateside as well.
The number 20 has been mooted because of our second factor – Nadal’s dominance in Paris.
Nadal produced the most dominant Grand Slam performance since 1978 after dropping just 35 games all tournament – Bjorn Borg lost just 32 en route to French Open victory 39 years ago.
The fact that Nadal was back to his brilliant best on clay leaves us all wondering how long he can continue to reign on clay. Stan Wawrinka – a former French Open champion – couldn’t come close, while Nadal also cruised past champion-in-the-making Dominic Thiem in their semi-final.
Barring serious or career-ending injury, it’s fair to suggest that Nadal could win a further three titles at the French Open alone. If Federer can win the Australian Open at 35, who’s to say Nadal won’t win on his favourite surface for many years to come?
It's impossible to look into the crystal ball and make a safe prediction, and you'll have sensed a reluctance to boldly state either way what will or could happen. Okay, so you're pushing us for an answer now... Federer to end on 19, Nadal one behind on 18. Just don't shout at us when Nadal goes on to win the next ten French Opens, will you?
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