Rafael Nadal has now won the French Open—-one of tennis’s major championships—-a mind-boggling 14 times. No other man has won an individual major more than 9 times. In this era of the “Big Three” —- Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic —- the trio have captured an absurd 62 major championships. Recall that there are 4 major championship tournaments in a calendar year. Nadal is now two majors clear of both rivals for the most career majors among men.
I lament the possibility that injuries may prevent the three legends from competing at the same time. Nadal himself needed an injection to play through the pain at this year’s French Open. Both he and Djokovic are 36, and Roger Federer, who has been recovering from knee surgery for most of the last 18 months, will be 41 on August 8. The fact that any of them compete is itself impressive, and of course, Djokovic is the top-ranked player in the world.
(Nadal is 4th, and Federer has fallen to 50th. The rankings contain no provisions for reputation, or past accomplishments.)
Nadal and Federer are beloved, while Djokovic is respected, but not loved. Federer’s legions of die-hard fans may grow to accept that Nadal may well be acclaimed as the greatest ever, but they take great solace that it is Nadal, and not Djokovic. Nadal has beaten Federer—-even in their primes—-on most occasions.
The 2008 Wimbledon final is acclaimed as the greatest men’s tennis match ever played, going into extra games on Federer’s preferred grass. Nadal, King of the French clay, beat his rival on that rival’s best surface. Understand that Federer has won Wimbledon a record 8 times, and finished runner-up just to Djokovic in 2014, 2015, and 2019. The greatness of Federer is shown not only in his innumerable victories, but perhaps as much in his near-misses. Indeed, he held the championship point on his racket in 2019.
In the end, the graciousness of both Federer and Nadal keep the fans on their sides, even in these latter stages.Â For my part, I hope we see Roger in his home tournament in Basel—-where he’s a 10-time champion—-in October. And that Nadal can play pain-free for years to come.Â
Djokovic reclaiming the banner as greatest ever frankly depends upon his mental focus, and avoiding politics. I don’t see many others on tour to challenge his physical skills. Yet his jealousy and bitterness toward the fans harms his play. His foolish decision regarding COVID vaccines cost him a chance to play this year’s Australian Open. In addition, his uncontrolled anger caused his disqualification from the US Open last year, when a ball he struck hit a ball person in the throat.
However the fight for legacy resolves, we have been privileged to watch all three, these 20-odd years. For new fans, the footage of these three is a stunning master class in the game of tennis.