Rafa Nadal US Open Trophy Win In the Tennis World All Grand Slams Are Equal

Nadal US Open 2017

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Rafa Nadal was one of the favorites going into this season’s US Open, but his journey to his 16th slam was expected to be a tough fought one versus an old rival and some players threatening to become new ones. Instead the Spaniard was presented with a very different path to navigate, a path less rocky and picturesque but as impressive as any road any champion has traveled on for the simple fact the top seed was the last man standing at the end of a road some never even managed to get a foot on. 

In modern tennis, all slams are equal- each slam earns the winner 2000 ATP points- and each one adds to the champion’s tally, and the higher the number, the greater the player’s ranking in the list of men’s tennis legends. But when it comes to those Greatest Ever debates, the numbers written on paper are often not enough to convince the doubters and debaters. Pundits and fans delve into the drawers of draws, replays, interviews, and media because while on paper all slams may seem equal, in the sphere of tennis debate, some are more equal than others.

Rafa Nadal’s recent US Open victory has undergone that scrutiny as to whether or not the numbers really add up when it comes to the Spaniard’s greatness. The  world No.1’s 16th slam, his third US Open (2010, 2013, 2017), has put him four Majors ahead of Novak Djokovic and two ahead of Pete Sampras in the all time Major list though he is still, just as he was this time last season, trailing career rival Roger Federer by three (19-16).

That number 16 means, if you consider slams to be the defining, and deciding, factor when it comes to greatness, Rafa Nadal is the second greatest player of all time, and some will even use that number 16 in addition to his head to head lead over Roger Federer (23-14) to argue Nadal may actually be the G.O.A.T despite his recent allergy to Grass.

Nadal’s slam numbers certainly work out for him when it comes to assessing him as one of the greatest of all time, but the other numbers that came up in his run to the 2017 US Open trophy are not as impressive most notably the rankings of his rivals – 85, 121, 59, 64, 53, 28, and 32. But players are more than just numbers and those rivals were Dusan Lajovic, Taro Daniel, Leonardo Mayer, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andrey Rublev, Juan Martin del Potro, and Kevin Anderson. Two of those players were lucky losers who won titles in the clay stretch post Wimbledon, (Rublev (Umag), Mayer in Hamburg), one of them has a career win over Nadal (Dolgopolov, Indian Wells 2013), Lajovic and Daniel had qualified directly for the draw and were as quality opening round opponents as most top seeds have faced at slams, one had beaten favorite Roger Federer in the previous round and was a former US Open champion with a 5-8 record versus Nadal (del Potro) and Kevin Anderson is a former top tenner with a win over Andy Murray at the Open in 2015 and who so nearly beat Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon ’15.

Those player’s rankings, though, unlike his own or his number of slams won, are numbers Nadal cannot control. This year, the draw also spiraled out of control numbers wise before the US Open began, the draw less equal to slams past to begin with as Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, two former champs and a former finalist withdrew before the event, and then, after the draw was done, Andy Murray, the second seed, lopsided the draw with his last minute withdrawal, a draw pitting the two favorites Federer and Nadal in the same half, a draw which collapsed round by round as Sascha Zverev was upset by Borna Coric and Marin Cilic fell to Diego Schwartzman.

Heads rolled in the top half, too. Kyrgios did not survive the opening round, Rublev knocked out Grigor Dimitrov, and David Goffin, and a struggling Roger Federer finally came up against a player with the experience and big match feel to take him down, Juan Martin del Potro, the event’s sleeping giant who likes nothing more than to be woken up by the roars of other giants in the biggest arenas and then silence them before a fervent crowd.

But while everyone else was losing their heads, Nadal was keeping his, and firmly on, too, as he kept the numbers in his favors, winning the required three sets in his matches, and upping his game in the quarters, dismissing Rublev for the loss of five games, dropping the same number in the final three sets of his match versus del Potro, a match in which Nadal played his best tennis since Roland Garros, and then defeating Kevin Anderson in straights in the final, a performance in which Nadal did not face a break point, dropped just 15 points on serve in 14 service games and won 16/16 points at the net.

Nadal’s performance at the business event of the tournament would have stood up well to whoever he played – his fitness would have outlasted Federer’s, the Swiss compromised by a sore back, and Nadal’s experience, will to win, and smarts would have have been too much for Zverev or Dimitrov whose early exits suggested they were not as ready to break through in a slam as many fans thought they were.

Just as Nadal’s timing on the ball was better than anyone in the draw so was his timing when it came to the season. The top seed’s Roland Garros run meant he had the confidence to win another slam on a surface which suited him over five sets, (the title was his first hard court title since Doha ’14), and his limited success on Grass and in the US Open series (6-3) meant he still had the strength and energy to take a slam, depleted draw wise by the rigors and stresses of a tour nine months in, a draw shredded round by round once the tournament began, the survivors in the final rounds the strongest at that time, but none as strong as a top seed with 15 slams on his record.

That record reads 16 now, the second strongest tally in history, and while his numbers may be called into question by some, the numbers tell us Nadal, the top seed, has entered 49 slams and been the best player in the draw 16 times, numbers which for a tennis player, do not, unless your name is Roger Federer, get better than that.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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