The good news for Roger Federer is that he may still achieve his life’s dream of winning more grand slam titles than any other man.
Federer only needs one more major to match Pete Sampras’ record of 14 and at the age of 27, time is still on his side.
But the bad news for the Swiss master is that even if does get the record, he may not hold it long. His greatest challenger now is not the man in front, but the one coming from behind.
Spain’s Rafa Nadal captured his sixth grand slam title when he beat Federer in an epic five-set thriller at the Australian Open on Sunday.
It was an enthralling match that Federer might just as easily won but the result erased any doubts over just who is the top player in the world right now.
“I love to win,” Nadal told reporters on Monday as he prepared to leave Australia.
“I love the competition. Not only in tennis, I love the competition in all aspects of life.
“When I compete, I love to be there and fight to win.”
Nadal has now beaten Federer in 13 of the 19 matches they have played, including each of the last five.
Significantly, Nadal has beaten Federer in five of their seven grand slam finals. The first three were at the French Open, Nadal’s favourite event, but the last two were at Wimbledon and Melbourne Park, which should have favoured the Swiss.
If not for the Spaniard, Federer would have already sailed past Sampras’s mark and laid an undeniable claim to being the greatest player of all time.
But any arguments about just who is the greatest player have now been put on hold because of Nadal’s continuing rise and improvement.
While Nadal has been responsible for stalling Federer’s relentless march towards Sampras’s record, the Spaniard has also done him a great service.
Just as Sampras had Agassi to contend with, Federer now has a truly great rival ensuring any future grand slams will be hard earned and therefore all the more valuable.
For Nadal, the question of which one of them is the best player is a mute point.
“He has 13 grand slams. I have six. The Masters Cup, he has won four. I have not won one. So there’s no discussion,” Nadal said.
“I say right now Roger is the best because he has all these titles. Maybe later [I can be].
“The rankings show I was the best player in the last year. That’s the truth but I am not the best player.”
Although he still has a long way to go to join Sampras and Federer, all the early indicators suggest Nadal is well on target.
The crafty lefthander has accrued his six grand slam titles at the age 22. When Federer was the same age, he had just won his first grand slam title. Sampras, at 22, had three.
Nadal won his six titles from 20 grand slam appearances. The only man to do it quicker was Bjorn Borg, who won his sixth title in his 18th event.
And unlike Federer and Sampras, who were never able to win grand slams on clay, Nadal has won majors on three different surfaces.
He is almost unbeatable on clay but has now mastered grass and hardcourt, increasing his chances of winning the US Open and completing a full set of grand slam titles, a feat that proved beyond Sampras and continues to elude Federer.
Nadal’s win in Melbourne has even raised speculation he could achieve the sport’s ultimate goal of winning all four majors in the same year, a feat only Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) have managed.
The centre court at the Australian Open is named after Laver and the Australian was there to present the winner’s trophy to Nadal on Sunday.
Nadal was moved by the occasion but does not think his brush with greatness will inspire him to achieve a calendar-year grand slam. Indeed, he believes Federer has a better chance of winning the French Open than the Spaniard has of winning in New York.
“Roger played the last three years in the final at Roland Garros ... so for sure he’s going to be one of the big favourites to win that,” Nadal said.
“It’s easier to win one title like Roland Garros for Roger than me winning the grand slam. That’s no competition.” - Reuters