As Rafael Nadal goes on increasing his tally of Grand Slams, he is leaving little doubt in anyone’s mind about his GOAT credentials. Assuming that his career is not cut short due to injury, here is why Nadal will in all probability end up as the greatest player to ever pick up a racket. In fact, many of his fans might say that if he doesn’t play another match, he has a legitimate shot at GOAThood.
Most of Nadal’s critics tend to look at the high percentage of French Opens in his Grand Slam tally as proof that he is very good on one surface and just good on the others. Looking at this in another light, the man has won an incredible eight French Opens. No other player has EVER won a Grand Slam eight times! Imagine him adding a couple more of French Opens to his credit before he retires and finishing with ten slams. Also consider the fact that he was won Monte Carlo eight times in a row. No one else has ever won a tournament eight times in a row. Consider these facts again, for they are staggering. On his favoured surface, he was won a Grand Slam more times than anyone else has won on any other surface and won a masters tournament more times in a row than anyone else has ever won any tournament in a row. Clearly, playing Nadal on clay is the toughest test there has ever been in tennis (as Federer has found time and again). On his favourite surface, a GOAT has to be the best there has ever been on any surface. Nadal is clearly the best ever player there has ever been on his chosen surface (better than the best hard court player on hard courts or the best grass player on grass or the best indoors player on indoors). This one fact gives him a very strong claim to being the GOAT.
But is that all there is to him? Well, not by a long way. It is interesting how throughout his career the Spaniard has risen to whatever challenge was thrown at him. Federer on grass? No problem! He lost to Federer in 4 sets in Wimbledon 2006, narrowly lost to him again in a thriller in 2007 and beat him in probably the greatest match of all time in 2008. That is visible improvement from one year to the other, unlike Federer who after years of trying just could not find a way to beat Nadal on clay at the French Open.
After the 2008 win at Wimbledon, the question was whether Nadal could win on hard courts. Once he won the Australian open in 2009, there was little doubt that he would add more to his hard court collection. Predictably, he went on to win the US Open in 2010. Still, his detractors were not satisfied, particularly when Djokovic had a dream year in 2011. Nadal kept plugging away at Djokovic eventually winning yet another US Open this year. Clearly, more than any other sports person there has ever been, this is a guy who you write off at your own peril. He will overcome what looks insurmountable time and again.
Now that Nadal has proven his all surface ability beyond any doubt in addition to being the best single surface player of all time, what else does he need to achieve? It would be nice if he adds more weeks at #1, but this is really not a very important criterion. He overtook Federer as the best player in the world but was then unfortunate to run into Djokovic in prime form in 2011. Finishing as #1 is largely determined by the time you start playing. It is possible that if Federer had started playing in a more competitive era, he might not have been able to achieve so many weeks at #1.
Another thing in Nadal’s favour is the complete domination of all his contemporaries. There is no one who has played more than 10 matches with Nadal and has a winning head to head against him, a statistic which beggars belief. Compare this to Federer who has a losing head to head with both Murray and Nadal. This is an achievement of Nadal which often goes unnoticed.
Another reason why Nadal should be considered the GOAT is that he is a true trailblazer as far as his playing style is concerned. Be it the incredible topspin he imparts to the ball, his superlative court coverage and speed or his incredible fitness and stamina, he has inspired other players like Djokovic to join him in taking the sport to an entirely new level. This is in addition to his legendary fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude which is an inspiration to all tennis players.
In short, with his mounting grand slam tally, an unbelievable record on clay, a brilliant record on the other surfaces, complete domination of his rivals and the new standards he sets on the tennis court each day in terms of physical fitness and mental strength, the question should not be why Rafa is the GOAT, but why he isn’t. I can’t think of any reasons. I bet very few can.