SPORT OPINION: Rafa clearly the king of clay, but is he now the greatest ever?
Two days ago Rafael Nadal won his eighth French Open - his 12th Grand Slam in total. That in itself is pretty jaw-dropping.
However, that it came barely four months after a seven-month layoff, thanks to yet another knee injury, makes this latest win even more remarkable. The super Spaniard has been written off (not least by this column) more times than you can say “Rafa Nadal is pretty good on clay”. But time and again he’s dealt a forehand smash at his dodgy knees and come out fighting, fitter and better than before.
This season alone he’s won seven from nine tournaments and while he may not be top of the world rankings at the moment, there’s little doubt who the best player on the planet currently is. However, can he now be considered the best ever? Is he now better than Roger Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam winner? Ever up for a challenge we debate whether Rafa has now surpassed Roger as the greatest...
FEDERER’S STILL NO.1 - says Greg Wilcox
The stats alone show that come the biggest tournaments the Swiss sensation is still far and away the best player to ever hold a racquet. He’s won 17 Grand Slam titles (the next best is Pete Sampras with 14), been in a record 36 consecutive quarter-finals in Grand Slams (the next best was Jimmy Connors with 27) and reached a record 33 Grand Slam semi-finals (the next best is Connors with 31, and that was set over a longer period). That’s a record not only of brilliance, but also remarkable consistency over all four surfaces. A record that not even Nadal can come close to. However, statistics can only tell you so much. And if you avoid playing the numbers game then Roger’s record is definitely unrivalled.
I am of course talking about Federer’s finesse. No one has ever looked as classy or as silky as the Swiss. He’s poetry compared to Nadal’s prose, he’s Zidane to Nadal’s Deschamps. That’s not to disparage either Nadal or the former French midfielder, rather to state the obvious when it comes to the pair’s relative merits as objects of sporting beauty. Federer’s backhand alone is worth its own exhibit in a museum. How many people would say that about Nadal’s workrate, grit, determination and mega top-spinning forehand - the Spaniard’s top attributes? Yes, Nadal is an all-time great, but when it comes to pure aesthetics allied to his remarkable record of dominance there’s no comparison - Federer’s the best ever.
NADAL’S NOW OVERTAKEN THE FED-EXPRESS - says James Alexander
There’s no doubt Federer is the prettier of the two players to watch. But in terms of who is better Nadal wins hands down. The numbers don’t lie. The two champions have provided sports fans with many enthralling contests over the years and the lefty has dominated the match-up. In fact, to put it simply, the Spaniard owns Federer.
Given the Swiss’ glittering career it’s hard to believe he’d be intimidated by anyone on the other side of the net. Yet Rafa appears to have a psychological stranglehold over the Fed-Express. The 31-year-old, who is typically unflappable, seems less confident and composed whenever he plays Nadal. In eight Grand Slam final meetings Nadal has won six, while in all matches played at the majors Nadal holds an 8-2 advantage. And arguably the most telling stat is the Mallorcan’s 20-10 edge in their overall head-to-head record. That’s domination in anyone’s book.
People will argue Federer is superior because he’s enjoyed more Slam success than Rafa. However, Nadal is four years his junior and we must assume he’ll still be collecting major titles once Federer is at the playground with Mirka and the kids. As much as it pains me to say it Federer is on the way out. He’s yet to win a tournament in 2013 while Rafa, after sitting on the sofa for seven months nursing his injured knee, has bitten down on so many trophies already he’ll need dentures by the time the season’s up. If he can stay fit, and it’s a big if, Nadal will surpass Federer for Grand Slam wins and definitely become the greatest of all-time.
When you host a guest it’s usually the visitor who is left being all humble and thankful. They’ve been fed, probably plied with brilliant beverages and have hopefully had a good time. However, with the British Lions tour of Australia it’s fair to say that convention is turned on it’s head and kicked into touch. That’s because the Australian Rugby Union is expected to pocket between $105-$118 million from all the TV and ticket sales, money they need. It’s fair to say the Lions are very accommodating and generous guests.
Indeed this hasn’t gone unnoticed Down Under with the then ARU chief John O’Neill saying a year ago: “The British and Irish Lions tour to Australia next year will be massive. Behind the World Cup, there is no bigger event in international Rugby”. Which begs the question: why did the Western Force field a second-string outfit for last week’s clash against the tourists? The one fear Lions coach Warren Gatland had when leaving London was that his Pride wouldn’t come up against stiff enough opposition before the first Test on June 22. And thanks to Force coach Michael Foley, those fears were well-founded.
In doing so the team - who were apparently saving frontline players for a Super 15 dead rubber against the Waratahs, a match they lost - dealt the notion of fair play and gratitude a nasty hand-off.