Spain's Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium before the start of a Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Ajax, in Madrid, September 15, 2010.
A couple thoughts before I talk about Rafa.::
1) Novak just won over a lot of hearts this weekend, maybe even Craig's (as cold as it is). The old Joker would have folded up shop against Fed and then on numerous occasions against Rafa tonight. He fought. He made Nadal earn his dinner and has nothing to feel bad about. He will win another major and if this was the beginning of Djoke/Nadal bring it on.
2) Despite the media song of the big boy tennis taking over the game all 4 majors were STILL won by two men. Some will still consider it a weak era here and there but this is an arms race we've not seen the likes of since US/Russia. Even though they may never play another major final against the other, this is Martina/Chrissy for the ATP. You will read books written about the rivalry, you will see movies. Amazing.
I don't see Nadal getting to 16. Fed had a couple years with no serious competition from his age-peers while Rafa was building his all-surface game. 7 more slams is a Hall of Fame career in itself. But he will get to 11-14 major titles.
How does he become the greatest of his era? He's already got the h2h advantage. He has a Gold Medal (which should count as a major.) He's done something only Laver has done before him with three in a row, Rafa's being on three different surfaces.
To make his case bullet proof he needs 2 of everything. Which means one more on each hard court. But, the big one comes in January when he'll go for the Rafa Slam.
If Rafael Nadal can win the Australian Open and hold all four major titles, its case closed. No, it wouldn't be a Grand Slam, but it'd be damn close.
Where does Nadal's season rank? There was a column on ESPN debating this. Obviously Laver's GS is #1, but from there it's debatable. Fed in '04 barely lost. He was locked in EVERY MATCH. 4 major finals only loss to Rafa.
Jimmy Connors in '74. Won all three slams he played lost 4 matches and wasn't allowed to play the French due to signing a contract to play World Team Tennis.Getty
And Rafa in '10. I think Nadal winning on three different surfaces in a row in majors is a slight edge over Fed's year especially when considering the year he came back from. The injury/mental lay off. Who saw this coming? Oh, we all saw the French Title but really who saw this?
Novak said it was disheartening that Nadal keeps getting better, seemingly every time they play. The fact that he could walk away from a summer and fall of ass kickings and say "yeah I need to improve to win, no?" and then do so after already being so accomplished is amazing.
Nadal's 4th set tonight may be the best set of the year by once performer. 50+ straight points with no UFE. Get out. And the kid was hitting the crap out of the ball.
How does the sport's greatest defensive player become one of the best offensive players?
Fed said it best after the '07 Wimbledon final, "I have to win now before he wins them all."
Great match tonight. By both men. Maybe for drama's sake and being a 5th set the Fed/Joker match was better, but much cleaner ball striking by both men tonight. Both men moved with grace and power. Very good final.
How fitting that Rafa tries for the 'Slam' in Australia? In Rod Laver Arena.
Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal arrives a press conference at Barajas Airport, Madrid, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. Nadal won the U.S. Open trophy and completed the career Grand Slam on Monday, 13, in a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Novak Djokovic.