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How Does Nadal’s 10th French Open Title Affect the GOAT Debate?

Now that a big three member won a grand slam title again we can once again look at how it affected the GOAT debate. Just to be clear, I don’t believe a GOAT can be determined. There are too many variables and intricacies. But just because it can’t be determined it doesn’t mean there isn’t one, so it is worth discussing. And besides, it’s interesting and fun.

First of all, a 10th French Open title is an unbelievable achievement and will be the most difficult record to beat of all the records. That said, 10 is not very different from 9, and it didn’t tell us much about Nadal that we didn’t already know.

In fact, it made Nadal’s already unbalanced resume even more skewed toward clay. Nadal is not merely a clay court specialist. He is actually the only player in history that has won more than one slam on each surface, a fact that only very recently occurred to me.

But as far as a 10th French open title goes it only raises the ratio of clay court slams to other slams and clay court titles to other titles. With a 10th French Open title, Nadal has now won exactly two-thirds of his slams on clay(10/15). That is 67%.

Some other stats:

1- More than 72% of career titles won on clay.
2- More than 73% of Masters 1000 titles won on clay
3- Failure at retaining any title outside of clay

4- Unimpressive head-to-head records outside of clay :

– Djokovic: 9-19
– Davydenko: 1-6
– Federer: 10-12
– Hewitt: 2-4
– Brown: 0-2
– Coric: 1-2
– Ferrer: 5-5
– Ljubicic: 2-2
– Gonzalez: 3-3
– Monaco: 1-1
– Del Potro: 6-5
– Blake: 4-3
– Soderling: 2-1

Other than that Nadal spent 141 weeks at #1(7th all-time) and won 0 World Tour Finals titles because he invests so much energy into the clay court season that he is always a spent force post-US Open. He is also a lousy indoor player compared to other all-time greats with only one indoor title.

The reason he spent so many fewer weeks at number one than Federer(302) and Djokovic(223) is that he is only an all-time great on clay and therefore can’t dominate outside of clay which is needed to hold the number one position for extended periods of time.

Nadal is clearly one of the all-time greats but as I always insist, balance is of supreme importance when it comes to the resume of a GOAT candidate. Surely, a GOAT candidate must be able to master all conditions and surfaces. That is clearly not the case with Nadal.

Big three surface rankings

Surface/Conditions Federer Djokovic Nadal
Hardcourt(Australian Open + US Open) 10 (1st) 8 (2nd) 3 (3rd)
Grass(Wimbledon) 7 (1st) 3 (2nd) 2 (3rd)
Clay(French Open) 1 (2nd) 1 (2nd) 10 (1st)
Indoor(World Tour Finals) 6 (1st) 5 (2nd) 0 (3rd)
Overall  (1st)  (2nd)  (3rd)

You wouldn’t say he mastered indoor tennis or even grass or hard courts. Indoor tennis is not an actual surface but it doesn’t make it any less significant and it as historically been a very important part of tennis. There used to be a much longer indoor season.

As opposed to Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are the better hard court, grass court, and indoor players. Federer is a better grass court player than Djokovic but Djokovic is a better clay court player than Federer. Indoors and on hard courts they are quite even.

It should be obvious that Federer and Djokovic have far more balanced resumes than Nadal and that their games are also far more complete.

Nadal’s Personality

In many ways, Nadal has benefited from modern tennis. The homogenization of surfaces, racquet and string technology, and the lack of indoor events have all tremendously benefited Nadal.

And yet, he complains far more than Federer or Djokovic. If it’s not the fact that there are not enough clay court tournaments(even though there are far more clay court events than grass court events) then it’s the fact that the World Tour Finals are not played on clay(thereby confirming how dependent he is on clay) or the fact that umpires are too tough on him for taking endless times between point, or the fact that the tennis calendar is too crowded, or the fact that he has to play with different balls, or the scheduling.

The list is endless to the point that articles such as Is Rafael Nadal in Danger of Being Labeled a Whiner? has been written. At the French Open this year he threatened umpire Ramos and told him he won’t chair his matches again. He also demanded a ban on umpire Bernardes after getting into a dispute with him.

Nadal portrays a humble persona but his actions often reveal someone who is self-centered and selfish. Federer and Djokovic seem far more altruistic. This is another reason Nadal is not in my top tier of GOAT candidates. You would think he would be grateful for all the changes to tennis that has benefited him but instead, he selfishly whines about conditions.

This is not the characteristic of a GOAT candidate in my view. And neither is his one-dimensional playing style. It amazes me how Nadal can still win a slam at age 31 given that the basis of his game is endless defense and grinding. But I suppose all the time he has taken off due to injury hasn’t hurt.

If Nadal becomes the first player in the open era to win the double career slam I will be forced to reconsider him for my top tier of GOAT candidates but for now, I simply can’t have him in my top tier due to shortcomings in his resume, playing style, and personality as outlined in this post.

What do you think?

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