by John Furgele
The title of this column is a bit clumsy, perhaps even awkward, but it is very true. Tennis has two great players in Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but in the end, Federer remains the true number one. Federer captured the one title he needed to have when he dismantled upstart Robin Soderling to win the French Open title at Roland Garros Sunday. For Federer, it was his 14th Grand Slam title, tying him with Pete Sampras, but more importantly, it was his first on the crushed brick in Paris, and no longer will there be complaints that Federer is not a complete champion. He has now won on hard, grass and clay and that can never be taken away.
Critics may argue that Federer had an easy path after Sodering beat Nadal in the 4th round, and many may say that had Federer played Nadal in the final, Nadal would have won, but I’m selling that. In sports, you have to play who’s here, not who should be here. How many times have you heard statements like, “they aren’t the best team,” or “they didn’t have to play the best team to win.” That is plain fodder. You play who’s in front of you and that is one thing Federer is great at.
Nadal may be better against Federer, but there are players who can beat Nadal on a given day. Andy Murray dissected Nadal in the semifinals of the 2008 US Open, then Federer breezed past Murray in the final. This year, in Paris, it was Soderling who took out Rafa, only to get blitzed by the Swiss Maestro in the final.
The only person Federer loses to is….Nadal. In last year’s French Open final, Federer played his worst match of his career when the Spainard carved him up, which included 6-0 in the third and final set. Then came the epic five set battle at Wimbledon, and to say that Nadal was better than Federer on that day could be made, but when it goes 9-7 in the fifth, aren’t we splitting hairs? When Nadal beat Federer at the this year’s Aussie Open, many said that the torch had been officially passed to Nadal.
Because Federer beats everybody but Nadal, he is always in the finals. He is now 14-5 in Grand Slam finals, with all five losses coming at the hands of Nadal (he has two wins against him; both at Wimbledon), but the difference is Federer is always there. Ivan Lendl (8-11) and Federer are tied with 19 Grand Slam finals apperances. As good as Nadal is, and he is great, Federer is more reliable the Nadal. Nadal has yet to make a US Open final; Federer has won five straight titles. Nadal has won one Australian Open title; Federer has won three. Nadal has six Grand Slam titles and is only 22 years old, so there remains a chance that Rafa will also get to double digits in slam titles, but Nadal can get beat in the early rounds, Federer cannot.
Federer is 27 years old and many say that means his best tennis is behind him, but where is the evidence? He made the Aussie Open final and lost in five sets, then won the French Open. To me, that doesn’t mean that his decline has begun. If you’re a tennis fan, or even a sports fan, yes, you were disappointed that Nadal didn’t play Federer in the French final and you hope that the two can make to the finals of both Wimbledon and the United States Open. This is very unfair to the other talented players on the tour, but that’s what makes sports great, having a true rivalry, and because of that, most of us want to see Nadal-Federer in the remaining two Grand Slam finals.
Of course, sports cannot be scripted and even though Nadal might have the upper hand when he plays Federer, I still believe that Federer will be in the both the Wimbledon and U. S. Open finals. For Nadal, I’m not as sure. If he can get there, he may win both of them, but Nadal can be beaten by others, Federer, as a general rule, cannot. Federer has the best chance to win four slams each year because he’s always in the finals. That cannot be said for Nadal, especially in New York.
This makes tennis a bit strange, because we really don’t know who the best player is? Nadal has the better head-to-head record, but Federer is more consistent and is as close to a finalist guarantee as there is. So, we’ll leave it the way we started…..
Nadal is better, but Federer is still the best.