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Daily Bagel: Is it time to start the GOAT discussion with Rafael Nadal?

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The Daily Bagel is your dose of the interesting reporting, writing and quipping from around the Internet.

• Video: Andy Roddick interviewed Serena Williams before the U.S. Open for Fox Sports 1.

• Is it time to start the G.O.A.T. discussion with Rafael Nadal? Here’s Bryan Armen Graham, writing for The Atlantic:

[Nadal has] evolved into nothing less than an all-court phenomenon. This season, he’s 22-0 on hard courts, traditionally his weakest surface. He’s just the second man to win multiple titles on three different surfaces. His lifetime winning percentage, currently an absurd 83.7 percent, is better than anyone in the sport today. Incredibly, he entered the U.S. Open with a winning record against each of the other 127 players in the field.

There will always be a passionate argument for Roger Federer—a man whose game has been described as porn for aesthetes—as tennis’s greatest, certainly as long as the Swiss maestro remains atop the all-time Grand Slam leaderboard with 17 trophies. Yet consider that Nadal has beaten Federer in 21 of their 31 meetings—and eight of their 10 matches at Grand Slams. Or that Nadal has won Olympic gold in singles and Federer hasn’t. Or that Nadal has won four more Davis Cups than Federer’s zero. Many have wondered aloud how a player can be regarded as the best of all time if he’s not conclusively the best of his time.

• Be sure to watch PBS’ American Masters profile of Billie Jean King. Some great old footage in there.

• Think Progress has a Q&A with King.

• Tom Tebbutt is in Serbia for Tennis Canada this week, and he says Novak Djokovic might actually play on Friday in the Davis Cup semifinals.

• Professional tennis through the eyes of a photographer. They see everything. Great read.

• From The Classical: The problem with American men’s tennis is antiquated strategy.

If we are to examine beyond the perceived imperfections of James Blake (a player with perhaps the most wonderfully imperfect game of all) and Sam Querrey and John Isner and [insert up-and-coming American here], then we should first determine what unites them. The only clear through-line is a strategy destined to fail in the modern game.

In short: the American men’s tennis players of today are engrossed by the concept of power. They hit forehands very hard and far into the court and hope their opponent will eventually miss. They serve big and at times – when the serve and opponent are right – it serves them well. They stay behind the baseline and slug things out nearly as well as anyone. They rarely hit drop shots; they rarely invent or dream. They face grim reality and they swing back with force. It’s an ethos.

But the modern game is not one for blunt force on its own, not one for one-dimensionality. John Isner, for all his positive traits – his goofy smile, his wonderfully angled serve, his daunting frame, his improving forehand – can be beaten by an opponent that simply dares to ask him to swing once more, again and again. A clever second-tier player will let Isner win his service games, bide his time carefully, and then attack the big Georgian’s backhand until he finally accepts defeat with hulking grace and confusion. The improved technology of racquets encourages a game like Isner’s – one set on power and sheer physical dominance. But it’s one of the game’s great ironies that elite play allows for such a game but does not reward those who exemplify its merits exclusively.

• The ATP catches up with Christian Harrison.

• Non-tennis: This video of a waffle falling over already has more than 700,000 views. I think the Internet is officially bored with itself.

  • Published On Sep 12, 2013
  • 12 comments
    jhncondix
    jhncondix

    If it could somehow be shown that both Nadal and Federer were clean, and that Nadal did have genuine chronic knee problems and injuries and they were not like Cilic's recent "knee injury" that forced his withdrawal from Wimbledon, then the head to head ought to decide it: Nadal is better than Federer and the greatest of all time. But there is a big cloud over him due to the overall pattern of his career, not to mention over tennis in general, including other top players (can you say CVAC pod). Of course Tennis and all those who make a living off of it have a huge incentive to claim drugs are not an issue in their sport. And maybe Nadal is singled out just because people are envious and want to tear down the great man out of ressentiment. But then again, that was exactly what Armstrong said about his critics. And please don't say Federer is in the clear because his game relies more on skill. We've just heard that tired old argument from Andy Murray in the New York Times. So the upshot is, if it was all real, then Nadal is the greatest, if not, he's the greatest the way Armstrong was the greatest cyclist of all time.

    tennisccue
    tennisccue

    Comparing left hand and right hand, on a match built on each game start on the right hand side, is outright impossible.   If you are into tennis, it is not hard to tell the huge advantage to protect break point for a left hander serving on the ad court.   Why are we comparing apple and orange?

    RandomTennisFan
    RandomTennisFan

    The Nadal-Federer head to head is obviously troubling. Yet there were numerous US Open and Australian Open events where Federer won, and Nadal entered but lost early on. Conversely Federer made it to four French Open finals on his worst surface, allowing him a head-to-head loss. 

    So... how about calculating the head-to-head in a different way. Method 1: if Nadal made it further in the tournament than Federer, and they both entered, he gets an "effective win" (and vice versa). Method 2: if Nadal was beaten by someone, and then Federer beat that person (or chain of people), then Federer gets an "effective win". 

    After all, Federer can't help it that Nadal wasn't good enough to make it to the finals all those years and get beaten by him. 

    Tom14
    Tom14

    I agree that american men's tennis is antiquated. You know of course Andy Murray went to Spain to train, why not study what there doing. Hate to say but I think the one handed backhand will join the serve and volley in the antique store.

    Tom14
    Tom14

    Are you kidding hasn't this discussion been going on longer than the Michael Jordon / Lebron James debate?

    mangstadt
    mangstadt

    The first time I thought of the possibility of Nadal catching up on Federer in terms of slams was in 2009, after he had won the Australian Open, his second slam off clay and sixth altogether. Nadal was 22 years old then. At the time, Fed had 13 slams to his name and he was 27.. Since then, the post-prime Fed took another two slams that same year, adding two more Wimbledons in 2010 and 2012.

    In 2009 and again in 2012, Nadal had to take some time off to take care of his knees and tendons, and many feared or revelled in the fact that he might just have to retire early. We had seen it happen many years before with Borg. His performance at Wimbledon this year reignited those fears (or hopes), but surprisingly Nadal came back, reinventing himself in the process, as shown by his run at Montreal, Cincinnati and New York.

    I think (I hope) Rafa will continue winning slams, maybe more off clay than on clay in the future. Right now the count is 8 to 5, but then there are three non-clay slams every year so he could maybe balance it out a bit. In terms of non-clay slams, he's one short of Becker and Edberg, two behind McEnroe,and three below Connors. I think he can catch up with them. Reaching Fed's tally of 10 off his best major will be more difficult but not impossible.

    This year we might see him at last win the ATP World Tour Finals, depending on how fit he stays over the next two or three months. As for No. 1, it's right around the corner and it will basically be a matter of adding weeks, first reaching 110, then 120, 130,  etc. (right now he's been at No. 1 for 102 weeks over two or three different stretches).

    As far as the pre-Open Era greats are concerned, the times have changed so much over the years that it really doesn't make sense to compare the late 20th century and the 21st century greats with those who played many years earlier . We really don't know much about the state of tennis in the days of Bill Tilden, Fred Perry or Donald Budge. There was no TV in those days. We do know that Pancho Gonzales won 2 amateur slams and 15 pro slams. Rosewall took 8 and 15, while Laver did 11 and 7. Both Rosewall and Laver turned professional and subsequently won some of their slams in the Open Era. 

    I'll see how my revenues fare over the next few months. If I can spare some cash I might take the plunge and find out how much they're paying for Nadal winning a calendar year slam in 2014. Or if Djokovic wins the next Australian Open, I might put a bit of money on him.

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    Pardon me if I'm wrong, but hasn't Nadal already been in the GOAT discussion for a couple of years? And if now is not the time to put him in there, then there is no time, because the guy's record speaks for itself. Forget the majors -- 13 is enough to put him in the discussion, considering he's third on the all-time list and will likely match Sampras no later than the '14 French Open. What's most impressive is that he has a winning record against, what is it, everyone in the top 50 in the world, something like that? I know he had a winning record against all the seeded players at the US Open, which I believe was unprecedented. I used to be firmly in the Fed camp on this discussion. But I'm beginning to switch my allegiance after Nadal's remarkable run this year. Would still like to see him hang a year-end title or two to solidify his case. Other than that, I don't see any holes in his resume. And if I had to pick one guy for one important match, Nadal would be the man. He's relentless, he plays every point like a madman, and he's a whole lot smarter on the court than people give him credit for.

    Vick
    Vick

    @RandomTennisFan Yeah. And Rafa can't help it if Roger is old and on his way out, thus allowing Rafa to catch and pass his Grand Slam win count. We need to change the tally system that ensures Roger comes out on top.

    shelley
    shelley

    @RandomTennisFan Really, Nadal lost early numerous times at the US Open and the Australian Open? Since Nadal turned 20, he has made at least the QF of both of those tournaments every year except 2007 when he lost in the fourth round of the US Open. At the Australian Open, since 2006, his record is A(bsent), Q, S, W, Q, Q, F, A. At  the US Open it is Q, 4R, S, S, W, F, A, W.

    How many slam finals did Federer make it to when he was a teenager? In fact, his record when he turned 20 until he was 23 is far worse than Nadal's, never making it past the 4th round at either of those two tournaments. The double standard some of you Fedfans use to discredit Nadal is just funny.

    mangstadt
    mangstadt

    @RandomTennisFan The head to head on hard court outdoor is 7-2 for Nadal and on grass it's 2-1 for Federer. Given Nadal's ability to get under Fed's skin (except on hard court indoor, 4-0 for Fed), I think Roger is lucky that other players knocked out Nadal in the earlier rounds of so many Australian and US Opens.

    What it comes down to is the fact that Federer has never really found a way to work out the Nadal Problem, therefore Nadal became his Nemesis and crushed him so often at grand slams (8-2 for Nadal). Add to this that Nadal is 8-3 against Djokovic and 6-2 against Murray at slams, and we have one very dominant player at the majors, although with an Achilles' heel: he sometimes gets knocked out of tournaments by lesser known players.

    bithomas2
    bithomas2

    @Vinny Cordoba I also didn't understand the subject of this post, as Nadal has definitely already been in the GOAT discussion for quite some time.  I still give my vote to Federer as the actual GOAT, as his amazing consistency in making Grand Slam quarterfinals (and usually much better) for 9(!) years in a row is unbelievable, considering that pretty much any player that qualifies for a Grand Slam can potentially get into a zone on any given day like Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, and Sergiy Stahovsky have done.  Still, I think Rafa is making quite the statement, and I think it is difficult to ignore his many accomplishments.


    IMO, I think it is wonderful that we've gotten to see so much of two of the best players ever.  Regardless of which one is the best (or even if neither is the best ever, as Laver must also be in the conversation), they are both phenomenal players, and both should be proud of their accomplishments.