Monday, June 11, 2012

Seventh Heaven: Nadal Beats Djokovic, Surpasses Borg

Rafael Nadal won one of the most historically significant matches in tennis history, defeating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 in the French Open to both break Bjorn Borg's record for French Open titles and end Djokovic's bid to simultaneously hold all four Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal has now won the French Open seven times in eight tries and he owns a 52-1 match record at Roland Garros; Borg won six French Open titles in eight appearances, posting a 49-2 match record. Borg skipped the French Open once during his prime--a result of the Byzantine chess politics of that era--and he retired at just 25 as the four-time reigning French Open champion. The 26 year old Nadal won the French Open the first four times that he entered it--2005-2008--to tie Borg's record for consecutive championships at that event and after Nadal's lone setback in the fourth round in 2009 versus Robin Soderling he has won three more French Open titles in a row.

Commentators have been attempting for years to elevate Roger Federer to greatest of all-time status but while the talking heads chirp and the writing heads pontificate Nadal has been getting the job done where it really matters: between the lines on the court. Nadal is now tied for fourth (with Borg and Rod Laver) on the all-time list with 11 Grand Slam singles titles, trailing only Federer (16), Pete Sampras (14) and Roy Emerson (12)--but in many ways Nadal's career record is more impressive than the career records of Federer, Sampras and Emerson. Nadal has won 11 of the 32 Grand Slam singles events that he entered (.344), a percentage second only to Borg's phenomenal 11/27 (.407); Borg is the only male player who won more Grand Slams at a younger age than Nadal (Borg won his 11th Grand Slam at 25). Federer's Grand Slam winning percentage is .308 (16/52), Sampras' Grand Slam winning percentage is .269 (14/52) and Emerson's Grand Slam winning percentage is .207 (12/58).

Although Emerson did complete the career Grand Slam and was the first player to win at least two titles in each of the Grand Slam events, all of his wins came during an era when professionals were banned from the Grand Slams and six of his 12 Grand Slam titles came in the Australian Open at a time when many top non-Australians did not play in that event, so Emerson cannot be given serious consideration in any legitimate greatest player of all-time discussion. Federer's Grand Slam total is also padded by four Australian triumphs, while Nadal only has one win in the least important Grand Slam and Borg only played Down Under once, early in his career.

Nadal completed the career Grand Slam at 24 (Federer was nearly 28 when he accomplished this) and Nadal has bested Federer on Federer's favorite Grand Slam surface--Wimbledon's grass--but Federer has never beaten Nadal at Roland Garros. Federer has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam six times and Sampras suffered seven first round Grand Slam losses; neither Borg nor Nadal ever lost in the first round of a Grand Slam.

Borg's simultaneous grass (Wimbledon)/clay (French Open) dominance is unparalleled--he won Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year an unprecedented three straight times and when he retired he held the Open Era record for both Wimbeldon titles (five) and French Open titles (six). Sampras (seven) and Federer (six) broke Borg's Wimbledon record and now Nadal has claimed Borg's French Open record but no player has come close to matching Borg's simultaneous multi-surface dominance. It is baffling that Borg is not more widely considered to be the greatest Open Era player or at least on equal footing with Federer and Nadal. Sampras' inability to even make it to the French Open Finals--he only made it to the semifinals once--places him below Borg, Federer and Nadal in the Open Era pantheon.

Djokovic is the wild card in this discussion. He was clearly a distant third behind Federer and Nadal for several years until he had a season for the ages in 2011 but his year of dominance may have ended; after beating Nadal in three straight Grand Slam Finals--and seven straight matches overall, each of them in Finals--Djokovic has lost to Nadal three times in a row, with each of those setbacks coming in Finals. Commentators spoke of Nadal's supposed "Djokovic problem" but it is not unusual for the tide to go back and forth somewhat in a rivalry between two players who are almost exactly the same age--and the reality is that Nadal still has a healthy head to head edge versus Djokovic overall (19-14) and in Grand Slam matches (6-3). It is hard to understand how Nadal's "Djokovic problem" could possibly be more significant or relevant than Roger Federer's much larger "Nadal problem": Nadal owns an 18-10 head to head advantage over Federer, including 8-2 in Grand Slam matches.

Perhaps if Nadal wins five more Grand Slam titles even Federer's most loyal devotees will have to admit what has been apparent for several years: Nadal has authored a career that is at least as dominant and accomplished as Federer's.


Andy said...

David - I'll continue on this thread. The first 3 points below are responses to your comments on that other thread. The next 3 in the post after this one are new points.

1. I agree that it’s not logical to say that Fed is “clearly” the GOAT. I disagree, however, if you say it’s not logical to consider Fed the GOAT based on the head to head with Rafa. I also prefer to stay away from “no matter how one frames it” statements because I believe we should always be trying to “frame” any discussion fairly/reasonably. “How one frames it” is indeed important. Moreover, if we go down the “no matter how one frames it” route, there are all types of stats that can be raised in Fed’s favor vis-à-vis Rafa. But, I agree with you about “context” and so I don’t want to go down that route.

Fed’s very good results on clay have actually hurt him in discussions like this. This is the very unique context that allows you to say now, “I cannot think of a similar one sided rivalry between two contenders for best player of their era in which the loser of that rivalry is still considered to be the greater player.” You wouldn’t be able to say “one-sided” at 12-9 (the head to head if Fed would have reached half the clay finals that he did). In reaching those finals, Fed has ironically opened the door to this statement.

No question Rafa has “succeeded” on other surfaces and his Wimby 2008 and AO 2009 wins over Fed in particular are indeed big problems for Fed here. I do not deny that. In my opinion though, Rafa needs more balance in his resume before he can be said to be the best of the post-Sampras era. The title ratio in Fed’s favor at 3 out of 4 Majors is still a bit too lopsided to me (5:1 at USO; 3:1 at Wimby; and 4:1 at AO). I don’t think Rafa has to get to 16 in total necessarily, but those ratios have got to improve a bit in my opinion.

2. The Chrissy point was raised because I think you over-emphasize the importance of the head to head in determining who was the “greater player” between those two, and so the reference to their head to head is being used inappropriately. In fact, given that such a small percentage of their matches were on clay, there is a very real argument in Chrissy’s favor that had Martina been good enough on clay to make it to more finals so that 50% of all their matches were on clay (like Fed-Nadal), Chrissy would have ended up with a solid edge in the head to head. And let’s imagine if that were the case. Would Chrissy be the “greater of the two”? Not necessarily, of course, given that Martina led on all other surfaces, etc. The point is that the head to head is not the reason that Martina is considered “greater” than Chrissy. There are a host of other factors.

3. I guess we have to agree to disagree on the definition of “dominance.” To me Rafa dominates his Spanish rivals. Fed “dominates” Roddick. Borg “dominated” Vilas. I played a lot of tennis as a teenager and one of my buds beat me soundly on hartru but I had the edge on hard courts. For various reasons we ended up playing a lot more on hartru. Did he “dominate” me? I don’t think so. And even putting aside that point, how can someone be “dominated” overall, when that someone actually dominates the other guy at one venue (Rafa has only won one set from Fed in their 4 matches on indoor hard). It’s fair to say Nadal has a very solid edge in the head to head but this is totally different from your “and almost as soon as Nadal showed up on the scene Nadal kept beating Federer like a drum,” which really is a misrepresentation of the truth when you think of the indoor hard matches, 2 Wimby wins and other Fed victories over the years.

Andy said...

4. I find the Emmitt Smith reference a bit unfair on a couple of levels. First, Jim Brown was not actually playing other football players one on one of course. So how he would have performed later in his career had he continued is far less of an issue than it is for Borg. Fed plays on after 26 and ages/struggles a bit more and the head to heads start to suffer, etc. A lot of Djoker losses would be wiped out for instance had Fed retired at 26 too. More importantly, there would be no Wimby loss in 2008 to Rafa, no AO loss in 2009 to Rafa, etc. These setbacks stand out a lot more for a tennis player than a football player as the head to heads are under the microscope. The question of what would have happened to Borg cannot be ignored in this discussion. I understand your points about slam title percentage, French-Wimby combo, etc. I was there don’t forget - a ‘70s kid/teenager. Borg was unbelievable. But the retirement thing, for whatever reason, becomes in a way a very unfair positive for him in discussions such as this (much more than for Jim Brown). Also, even with Emmitt’s accomplishments, it’s not like he “dominated” his position in his peak years. You compare the two on the basis of them being “longevity” guys, but the distinction is “peak performance.” If Emmitt Smith had a few years where he just totally blew away the competition I might respect this reference more.

5. Your emphasis on the Suntory Cup result is misplaced in my view. I see Borg playing a fine match against a somewhat off McEnroe, but this is not even fractionally as important as the USO, Wimby were (even knowing these types of money matches were more important than now). Anyway, the Suntory Cup match is one match. It’s too optimistic to draw from it that Borg would have likely been able to reverse the trend that had been established in the Major battles where it seemed to be becoming easier for Mac to beat him by USO ’81. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Bjorn couldn’t have taken some matches. But the facts that we know are that in there 4 meetings at Majors, Bjorn won one 8-6 in the 5th and then lost the other three.

6. The Borg for GOAT argument has a problem with the “USO thing” I think. It’s not that he didn’t win the USO. He put in a great and admirable effort just like Roger at the FO prior to 2009. It’s that he didn’t win it even though he had chances to do so on clay (hartru). Fluky reasons or not, this to me is somewhat of a big dilemma for those who argue for him. I mean, if hypothetically the FO had been turned into a hard court event for 3 years, Fed’s failure to win there would have been highlighted significantly more than it was. Borg had his chance to win the one significant Major at the time missing from his resume on a surface related to his favorite surface, but came up short. I’m not saying this “disqualifies” him, but this is a huge point here I think.

David Friedman said...


1) Can you cite one example from any sport in which a player or team is considered to be the greatest of all-time despite having a lopsided losing record against a worthy rival? I am not talking about small sample statistical randomness like Charlotte's bizarrely good regular season record against the Lakers in recent seasons but rather two players or two teams who are vying for supremacy and one player/team has a big head to head advantage.

You have yet to answer that question.

Also, a careful reading of my articles on this subject clearly shows that my argument is not entirely based on head to head but simply says that head to head is an important factor.

I also have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for why we should consider Federer's grass dominance--which is not as complete as Nadal's clay dominance--more important/relevant/significant than Nadal's clay dominance. Federer has dominated Wimbledon but Nadal beat him there. Nadal has dominated the French Open and Federer has not beaten Nadal there. It is also entirely reasonable to flip your surface argument around and say that if Federer had advanced further at Wimbledon in recent years then he would have suffered some more losses to Nadal; in 2010 and 2011 Federer lost at Wimbledon before he had the chance to face Nadal.

Another perhaps even more important factor is that Nadal's Grand Slam winning percentage is better than Federer's.

We can both come up with endless hypothetical scenarios in which Federer might have beaten Nadal or Nadal might have beaten Federer but the real stats are 18-10 in Nadal's favor and that ratio is dominant "no matter how one frames it"--unless you just intentionally distort the numbers.

2) You are mistaken if you think that the head to head score is not given heavy consideration vis a vis the Navratilova-Evert rivalry--and that is precisely why it is so surprising that the head to head score seems to be considered a mere footnote with Federer and Nadal. Heck, last year we were hearing that Nadal had a "Djokovic problem" even though Nadal still led--and still leads--that rivalry. Many people seem to be very reluctant to give Nadal credit for being anything other than a great clay court player.

3) The first 10 times that Federer played Nadal--when Federer was at the height of his powers and Nadal was still improving--Nadal beat Federer seven times. Two of Nadal's wins came on hard courts. Later, Nadal beat Federer on grass in just their third meeting on that surface--the 2008 Wimbledon Final, ending Federer's five year winning streak at that event. So, yes, it is fair to say that as soon as Nadal showed up he started beating Federer like a drum--and then in short order he even beat Federer at a place where Federer was considered to be as unbeatable as Nadal now is on clay.

Here is how I rank the top Open Era players:

1) Borg
2) Nadal
3) Federer
4) Sampras

There is certainly room for debate but what I don't understand is how anyone can suggest that Federer is the greatest by a wide margin. I know that you are not saying that about Federer but you still are recycling some of the faulty arguments made by people who do say that.

David Friedman said...


4) Jim Brown absolutely dominated his era like no other running back before or since, winning eight rushing titles in nine seasons. You really seem to be struggling with the concept of dominance and I am not sure how to make it more clear for you.

Federer's numbers are not slipping because he played past the age of 26. He never had the same winning percentages as Borg and, as noted in my previous comment, he was losing to Nadal right from the start, not just as he got older. If Federer is the greatest player of all-time then the new kid on the block should not beat him in seven of their first 10 meetings--I don't care if they played on clay, grass or asphalt at the municipal park.

Emmitt Smith attained the career rushing yards record by playing for a very long time at a consistent level; Federer attained the career Grand Slam record in much the same way, with a lower winning percentage than Borg or Nadal.

5) The popular myth is that Borg retired because he "knew" that he could not beat McEnroe; the video evidence from a high prize fund event shows otherwise. I leave it to the intelligent reader to draw the correct conclusion. The reality, well documented in the media at the time but seemingly forgotten now, is that Borg retired because he objected to the idea of having to play qualifiers at the Grand Slams if he did not play in enough events throughout the season to suit tennis' governing body. If the fools who ran tennis had not chased Borg off he might very well have won many more Grand Slams. By the time the stupid rule was changed, Borg had already been off of the tour--but not officially retired--for a while and he decided against competing in any more Grand Slams.

6) Of course, Borg's lack of a U.S. Open title is the number one weakness on his resume; if he had won that one then he would have gone to Australia and likely collected the career Grand Slam as well and then he would without question be the greatest Open Era player. The larger point is that Borg did not have a surface problem or a matchup problem; he won on hard courts elsewhere and he beat Connors and McEnroe elsewhere. We could get into details about Borg's injuries at a couple of those U.S. Opens but the big difference is that Federer has a surface problem--clay--and an opponent problem--Nadal--while Borg had neither. Borg proved that he could dominate the fast grass at Wimbledon and the slow clay at the French, an unprecedented simultaneous multi-surface dominance. Federer has not achieved a similar distinction.

Also, if you want to start playing with numbers to somehow even up the Nadal-Federer head to head record then let's also play with numbers and take Federer's four Australian Open titles off of the table; in Borg's era that event was considered unimportant by the non-Aussie players and he only played there once. If you just count the three most important Slams, Borg's record is 11/26, Federer's record is 12/39 and Nadal's record is 10/24. Nadal is much closer to Borg in terms of winning percentage and multi-surface versatility than Federer is and Nadal owns that dominant head to head advantage over Federer; that is why I think that anyone who looks at the whole situation objectively would rank Borg first, followed by Nadal and Federer. Sampras was downright inept on clay compared to the other three and I don't place much emphasis on those computer number one rankings, so Sampras is fourth among Open Era players in my book.

Steve said...

Great response Andy. About Nadal, he has 11 major so far. Do you think he should have more majors of AO, W and UO to cement his possible status as the best of all time in the open era?
Likely two more on grass (he has 2 until now) and two more on HC (he has 1 on plexicushion and 1 on Decoturf). And at least 1 WTF, the most important tournament on indoors( he has 1 final) What do you think, what does he has to achieve until the end of his career to considered undoubtedly the best of all time?

tennis said...

great response andy. you are right on point.

Andy said...

Thanks Steve.

That's a tough question. I'm not going to say anything about "undoubtedly" but, to me, the best of all time argument would be a reasonable one to suggest if he wins 3 more non-clay majors. I think 2 more US and 1 more AO would go a huge way, for me anyway. A WTF would be helpful but not essential, especially if he at least makes a couple of more finals there.

I actually don't think Wimby is so essential for him as he has very much proven his place there, making it to every final since 2006 (excluding 2009 when he was injured) and losing to great players in his losses. Having said that, of course one or more Wimbys would be huge for his legacy, but I think his resume is just fine there already.

David Friedman said...


How many times would Nadal have to beat Federer before you would say, "Gee, Nadal might just possibly be better than Federer?" Over what period of time would Nadal have to maintain a better Grand Slam winning percentage than Federer for you to say, "Gee, Nadal might actually be a more dominant Grand Slam champion than Federer?" Nadal's career has been more dominant than Federer's. All Federer has over Nadal is that Federer has played longer and been somewhat more durable, so Federer has amassed more total wins than Nadal--just like Emmitt Smith has amassed more total rushing yards than Jim Brown.

Andy said...

David – I responded briefly to some of your comments above the other day but it seems the post got lost in cyberspace (or to the powers of censorship perhaps?). Anyway, below are some more responses.

1. You say,
“Can you cite one which a player or team is considered to be the greatest of all-time despite having a lopsided losing record against a worthy rival?”

No I can't (and never said I could), but as mentioned, it doesn’t matter. The context here is very unique as Fed has helped to create the “lopsidedness” by making it to so many clay finals.

2. You say,
“Also, a careful reading of my articles...clearly shows that my argument is not entirely based on head to head but simply says that head to head is an important factor.”

I just said that I disagree IF you say it’s not logical to consider Fed the GOAT based on the head to head with Rafa. I didn’t say that you actually say it (though you have at various times over the years come at least close to saying that the head to head alone makes Nadal greater - you’re inconsistent on the amount you stress the head to head in some posts).

3. You say,
"I also have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for why we should consider Federer's grass dominance--which is not as complete as Nadal's clay dominance--more important/relevant/significant than Nadal's clay dominance."

I never said it should. You're taking my argument about Chrissy-Martina and misrepresenting my position as being that Fed’s grass success should be valued more than Martina’s. I never said that, and the Chrissy thing was not meant to imply that. I have explained the Chrissy argument already. I assume you understand it as you are obviously an intelligent person.

4. You say,
“It is also entirely reasonable to flip your surface argument around and say that if Federer had advanced further at Wimbledon in recent years then he would have suffered some more losses to Nadal; in 2010 and 2011 Federer lost at Wimbledon before he had the chance to face Nadal.”

Where the “reasonableness” breaks down quite a bit is that in your hypothetical, you are relying on the assumption that Rafa would have beaten Fed in those 2010 and 2011 Wimby finals (far from a tiny assumption given that Rafa’s one win there was 9-7 in the 5th) . In my hypothetical, I don’t have to make an extra assumption like that. My hypothetical only requires us to imagine Fed getting beaten before one of those actual finals that occurred. Huge difference.

5. You say,
“Another perhaps even more important factor is that Nadal's Grand Slam winning percentage is better than Federer's.”

Fair enough, but it's so loaded on one Slam title - 7 out of 11. Nevertheless, it's for reasons like this that I have acknowledged that Rafa might not need to get to 16 to surpass Fed in the “greatness” question.

6. You say
“The real stats are 18-10 in Nadal's favor and that ratio is dominant "no matter how one frames it"--unless you just intentionally distort the numbers. “

Nothing that I've said is distorting anything. It’s just reasonable analysis of 18-10. Looking beyond the numbers. The same way you do for Borg’s total of 11 majors.

7. You say,
“You are mistaken if you think that the head to head score is not given heavy consideration vis a vis the Navratilova-Evert rivalry—“

I think you are grossly over-emphasizing how important any tennis historian who really knows a lot about tennis would weigh the head to head between Chrissy and Martina in determining the question of who was “greater”. In any case, as I have pointed out, the breakdown of the surfaces in their matches is so dramatically different from Fed-Nadal that it is ridiculous to compare them

David Friedman said...


From past experience I don't have much patience anymore to go back and forth with anyone who is completely entrenched in erroneous thinking; what inevitably happens is the conversation rapidly devolves into increasingly farfetched/irrelevant points and/or ad hominem comments.

Most of what I have said on this topic is self explanatory but you obviously disagree and are entitled to do so. Nothing that I say is going to change your point of view but for the benefit of others here are some brief responses to your most recent comment:

1) It obviously does matter that you (or anyone else) cannot cite the type of example I requested; it does not exist! When two players/teams are vying for supremacy in their sport, the head to head record is a very important consideration. Your reasoning on this issue completely fails at every level.

2) Why would you make such a big deal in the comments section of my website about head to head not being important if you were not at the very least strongly suggesting that I have asserted that head to head is the most important consideration? I never said that head to head is the most important consideration and I have repeatedly cited other factors, including Grand Slam winning percentage, number of first round losses, ratio of wins in Wimbledon/French/U.S. Open to the much less important Australian Open. Nadal and Borg outdo Federer in all of those categories. My alleged "inconsistency" in what I emphasize likely has to do with you misreading an article; obviously an article written just after Nadal beat Federer in a particular match probably talks more about head to head than a general article about great tennis players does.

3) Whatever you are trying to prove here, it does not make any more sense than the two preceding arguments. Nadal completely owns clay; Federer has dominated grass but Nadal beat him there. If we say that Nadal is the greatest clay courter and Federer is the greatest player on grass and we acknowledge that Nadal has done more on Federer's "turf" than Federer has done on Nadal's "turf" then how can we reach a conclusion other than the one I reached, namely that Nadal is greater than Federer? Just consider that a rhetorical question; I don't really want to waste time answering whatever your reply to that might be.

4) Hypothetical scenarios by definition rely on assumptions. You are assuming that the Nadal-Federer head to head record would look different if Nadal had advanced further in grass court events or if Federer had lost earlier in clay court events and I am saying that it is just as likely that the record would be more lopsided in Nadal's favor if Federer had not started losing earlier at Wimbledon in recent years. You can't prove me wrong and I can't prove you wrong because these are HYPOTHETICAL statements.

5) As mentioned above, Federer's Grand Slam record is padded by four Australian titles.

6) You are certainly distorting things. I strongly suspect that you are a lawyer. Every hypothetical you mention attempts to diminish the importance of Nadal's head to head advantage, Nadal's greater Grand Slam winning percentage, Nadal's greater consistency in advancing past the first round and Nadal's greater overall success in the three most important Slams. If this were a court case you would be defending someone who murdered his parents by saying that the court should be lenient because your client is an orphan--and then you would be offended by the suggestion that calling him an orphan is a distortion.

7) Refer back to point one. Once you can cite one example in which a lopsided head to head record does not matter then perhaps we can have an intelligent discussion--but since you have admitted that you cannot find such an example your options are somewhat limited.

Andy said...


"should be valued more than Martina’s." in the Chrissy comment was obviously a mistake on my part.

That should read

"should be valued more than Rafa's clay court success"

David Friedman said...


At least you clarified what you meant in point three; as originally written it did not make sense at all. Of course, you failed to deal with the larger issue--namely that there is no reason to consider Federer's grass court dominance more significant than Nadal's clay court dominance.

There really is just not that much more to say here. You have expressed your point of view, muddled and inconsistent as it is, and I have expressed my point of view over the course of several articles and numerous comments appended beneath those articles. I have little interest in trying to further explain the concept of "dominance" or what it means to distort information. Federer has many passionate supporters and you can certainly proudly count yourself in that group.

David Friedman said...


One last thing, regarding "censorship." The right of free speech is often misunderstood (much like the relative importance of head to head dominance and even the meaning of the word "dominance"). Every U.S. citizen has the right of free speech but that does not mean that every letter to the editor or every comment on a blog post will or should be published. I publish the vast majority of comments that I receive and even a cursory review of my websites makes it abundantly clear that I do not hesitate to publish comments that express disagreement with my contentions--but not every last single comment gets published.

You certainly have received more than ample bandwidth to express your point of view here; your comments total more words than the original article, so the insinuation that you are the victim of "censorship" is ludicrous.

ttucker23 said...

One question that makes this so fascinating, for me at least... If it's true that Nadal was always better than Federer, via winning 7 out of ten first meetings - why did Federer remain at no. 1 for so long during this exact same period, and Nadal at number 2 for record amount of time? If he really was the better player all along, why did Federer win 3 out of 4 slams in three seasons? Wouldn't this suggest that overall, despite losing to him a lot, Federer was the better player during that period, no? After 2008 the discrepancy appears to be down to Nadal reaching his prime and Federer in slight decline (tennis player usually peak between 23-25 years of age).

David Friedman said...


The computer ranking system in tennis is flawed. In 1978, Borg won Wimbledon and the French Open and reached the U.S. Open Finals but Connors retained the number one ranking. Borg won both the ATP Player of the Year award and the ITF World Champion honor in 1978 despite the fact that Connors stayed ahead of him in the computer rankings. You may notice that in my articles about tennis I rarely mention the world rankings, except to occasionally point out what I just said: the ranking system is flawed (it has been tweaked a few times over the years but it has always been flawed in one way or another).

ttucker23 said...

There may be times when the computer system has been flawed, but in 2006 Roger Federer won 3 out of 4 Grand Slams, reached the final of the other, got to the finals of six Masters 1000 events, winning the four he played on hard courts, and won the year end championship. It would be difficult to argue that he didn't deserve the No. 1 ranking that year. In that year he had a losing record against Nadal: 2 - 4.

2007 was similar - 3 out of 4 Grand Slams, final of the other, got to 5 Masters 1000 finals, winning two, and won the year end finals. Again, pretty hard to deny him No. 1 rank with that performance. In that year he actually had a winning head-to-head against Nadal: 3 - 2.

My point is, that Federer had years of dominance while Nadal was playing - so if Nadal really is the superior player, why did he not dominate instead of Federer?

Of course, after 2008 he did, and it's clear that's a changing of the guard moment. Federer turned 27 in 2008, which is generally past a tennis player's peak years. Nadal looks like he may be headed for similar slippage from his peak right now (although of course the jury's still out on that).

David Friedman said...


The fascinating thing about statistics is that they can be used--by the sly and/or uninformed--to "prove" just about anything. There is no denying that Federer had some amazing seasons and he clearly was the best player in the world for a certain period of time. There is also no denying that Nadal has dominated Federer head to head and that Nadal won more Grand Slam titles at an earlier age than anyone other than Borg. Nadal also has a better career Grand Slam winning percentage than Federer. So, instead of merely looking at statistics from one or two seasons, consider the wider view of their entire careers: Federer has been widely acclaimed as the greatest player of all-time--or at least the greatest player of the Open Era--but his contemporary Nadal dominates him head to head and has had a better Grand Slam career. If Federer is/was the greatest player of all-time then what should we now say about the man who surpassed him?

Then, there is the thorny but seldom discussed issue that Borg arguably had a better career than either Federer or Nadal: Borg dominated the Grand Slams with a much higher winning percentage, he retired as the career record holder for both Wimbledon and French Open titles and he also had great success in the Davis Cup. It could very logically be argued that Nadal is in fact battling Federer not for the title of greatest Open Era player but rather for the title of second greatest Open Era player behind Borg.