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Who had the better season — Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal?

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal both won two majors and double-digit titles this year. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images; Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

No two players grabbed more headlines in 2013 than Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Their seasons unfolded in a similar manner — they each won two Grand Slams, captured at least 10 titles, reclaimed the No. 1 ranking and finished the year in the top spot for the third time.

The similarities lead to this question: Who had the better season — Serena or Rafa?

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Serena Williams

• Titles: 11 (Brisbane, Miami, Charleston, Madrid, Rome, French Open, Bastad, Toronto, U.S. Open, China Open, WTA Championships)
• Grand Slams: 2 (French Open, U.S. Open)
• Prize Money: $12,385,572 (third-highest single-season total in tennis history, men or women)
• Rankings rise: No. 3 to No. 1
• Tournaments: 15 (made final of 13)
• Record: 78-4
• Losses: Victoria Azarenka (Doha, Cincinnati), Sloane Stephens (Australian Open), Sabine Lisicki (Wimbledon)
• Longest winning streak: 34 matches
• Point lead on No. 2 Azarenka: 5,214 points

The skinny: Williams, who turned 32 in September, put together her most consistently dominant season, on the heels of a fantastic finish to 2012 that set her up for a return to No. 1. The Australian Open proved to be a rare 2013 disappointment for Williams, who lost to Stephens in the quarterfinals while dealing with an ankle sprain and back injury. In February, though, she recaptured the top spot for the first time since 2010 and became the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking since the computer rankings were introduced in 1975. That milestone completed her climb back to the top of the game after injury and illness left her hospitalized in 2011.

Williams impressed with her consistency and commitment in 2013. She made the final of 13 of 15 tournaments, won a career-best 11 titles (the most of any player since 1997) and collected five of those titles without dropping a set. She won her first French Open title since 2002, part of a 28-0 season on clay. Whether it was the final of the U.S. Open or the first round of Bastad, Williams showed a level of day-in, day-out intensity that we haven’t seen before. She finished the year on an 18-match winning streak, with no letdown after the U.S. Open.

Rafael Nadal

• Titles: 10 (Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, French Open, Montreal, Cincinnati, U.S. Open)
• Grand Slams: 2
• Prize money: $12,070,935
• Rankings rise: No. 4 to No. 1
• Tournaments: 17 (made final of 14)
• Record: 75-7
• Losses: Novak Djokovic (Monte Carlo, Beijing, London), Juan Martin del Potro (Shanghai), David Ferrer (Paris), Steve Darcis (Wimbledon), Horacio Zeballos (Vina del Mar)
• Longest winning streaks: 22 matches, twice
• Point lead on No. 2 Djokovic: 920 points (Djokovic can continue to close the gap this week at Davis Cup)

The skinny: Nadal missed the Australian Open with a virus, capping a seven-month layoff caused mainly by a knee injury. But when he returned in February, he proceeded to win nearly every tournament he played.

After falling to Zeballos in the VTR Open final in his season debut, Nadal won 18 consecutive matches over a four-tournament span. Djokovic stopped the streak in the Monte Carlo Masters final, but Nadal responded with a 22-match winning streak that spanned the rest of the clay season and culminated with his eighth French Open title.

In the surprise of the season, Nadal lost to No. 135 Darcis in the first round of Wimbledon. But he quickly regained his form during the North American summer hard-court circuit, winning back-to-back Masters 1000 titles followed by his second U.S. Open crown.

That Nadal was able to play such a high level of tennis so quickly after coming back is mind-boggling. His quality on hard courts was a revelation, especially over the summer when he won Montreal and Cincinnati, two tournaments that have never been easy for him. He ruled the season for eight months, from February to September, before fading a bit after the U.S. Open, failing to win a title in his last four tournaments.

My pick

Nadal’s season was incredible, and he faced stiffer competition on the ATP Tour than Williams did on the WTA Tour. But Nadal’s run also confirmed what we already knew: that he is an unrelenting competitor who continues to adapt and improve.

We did learn something new about Williams this year: At a time when we wondered how many good years she might have left, Williams proved that she could compile a top-notch season, from start to finish, with no bad losses or questions about her dedication or focus. Her .951 winning percentage was the WTA’s best in a season since Steffi Graf went 75-2 (.974) in 1989. I give her the nod over Nadal.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and weigh in on Rafa vs. Serena in the comments.

  • Published On Nov 15, 2013
  • 40 comments
    Sereniza
    Sereniza

    the better question is, who has bigger biceps?

    16914
    16914

    Serena wins in my opinion. Despite Rafa's outstanding year, a 78-4 record trumps. Also, keep in mind that Rafa suffered consecutive losses to Nole, and the end of his reign at Monte Carlo. We can discount his loss to Zeballos, that was at the fault of his return from injury. Serena's outstanding clay court season turns over a new leaf for her, even at the age of 32. She did not have as tough competition as Nadal, this is true. Still, she only lost twice to anyone besides Azarenka. Those two slam losses negatively reflect an otherwise perfect year, where she reached the final of every tournament and won 11. Rafa did not dominate nearly as much as Williams, as Nole posted a 74-9 record with 7 titles to 75-7 and 10 from Rafa. You could argue their years were near equal, especially as they tied the head to head 3-3. Both Serena and Rafa are hard to argue against. Still, Serena takes the edge after two phenomenal years.

    danielmm
    danielmm

    Certainly both have excellent arguments, but I don't understand Nguyen's reasoning--specifically, "But Nadal’s run also confirmed what we already knew: that he is an unrelenting competitor who continues to adapt and improve." For one, I don't see why confirming what we already knew is a detraction. More importantly, I don't think Nadal's season could accurately be described as confirming what we already knew. At the beginning of the year, we didn't even know when he'd play, and when he did, we didn't know if he'd be nearly as good as was. And even we had assumed that he'd be just as good as he was before, we didn't know whether he could ever beat Djokovic on a hard court again. From the perspective, Nadal's season was a revelation. He won three hard court masters events and the US Open, beating Djokovic in the final of the latter. NO ONE would have expected that at the beginning of the year. In this latter stage of his career and coming off the most significant layoff for a top player in recent memory, Nadal pulled off one of the most impressive feats on hard court (i.e., the Canada, Cincinnati, US Open triple), something he's never done and no one thought he'd ever do. So I think both he and Serena expanded their legends by showing us things we DIDN'T know about them. 

    But I also have a problem with the description of Serena, in particular the "no bad losses" part. Certainly this was her most consistent season in terms of main-tour results and overall dedication. But losing to the 29th seed in the QFs at the Australian Open and the 23rd seed in the 4R of Wimbledon are bad losses. Obviously her season was still amazing, I just think the description wasn't quite accurate. (To me, the real surprise for Serena, the revelation comparable to Nadal's, was her performance on clay.)

    Both were amazing, but I put Nadal ahead for the reason Nguyen stated--that he faced (much) stiffer competition on the ATP tour than Williams did in the WTA. When you look at the WTA, there's no reason she *shouldn't* have this sort of season. She's simply head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the field. For Nadal, on the other hand, logic would dictate that he *shouldn't* be winning hard court masters with Djokovic in the field (not to mention del Potro, Murray, and even Federer). So the fact that he was able to put together a similarly amazing year going against better competition to me shows why he should be put ahead. Put simply, if there's a tie in results, the next logical question is how tough was the competition, and there's no question that Nadal's competition was tougher. 

    (The question is closer after Nadal faded a bit in the late indoor season, but to show what an amazing standard he's set, he was still reaching finals at that point.)

    RudyRamirez
    RudyRamirez

    You pro Serena fans are delusional,Since Henin and Clijsters retired there has been 5 #1 players,since Henin retired Serena has dominated a bunch of scared rabbits , a field of wannabes. There is no way to compare Nadal with Serena,are you kidding,you are living in a fantasy world.


    gr8sou
    gr8sou

    Rafa's year has been better than Serena...2 reasons...1. Its difficult to sit out for 7 months, slip to no.5 and bridge a gap of almost 5000 points to get to no.1...unprecedented...2. Competition...simple, men's tennis is by far more tough than female tennis, by yards...the competition that nole gives rafa can only be matched by venus and unfortunately she isnt what she used to be...serena romped a light field...rafa was competing against a combined 26 major winners, while Serena was fighting against a combined 5-6 slam winners...this tells the story...yes Serena did an outstanding job this clay season...rafa topped it with his hard court season...after 2 slams, record tying 5 masters, 14 finals and year end no.1, what more do u ask for to have a better season? hands down, rafa had a superior year!

    CMassrey
    CMassrey

    What is the point of comparing a female player to a male player to begin with? They are two different tours and have different opponents.  And Serena doesn't have nearly the competition at the top.  I'm sure Federer at 32 wishes he had the opponents that Serena does.  Serena at 32 wouldn't be nearly as dominant if the rest of her Top 4 were like Djoker, Rafa, and Murray

    phrozen99
    phrozen99

    What a silly comparison. Serena by far. Don't get me wrong, I am a Rafa fan, but she won more money, longer win streak, and the Year end championship.

    ichuse21
    ichuse21

    Rafa's competition stiffer yeah right!!!! Those first few tournaments he won were international level tournaments. She had more quality wins. Serena won most of the mandatorys and she won 2 Slams then she won the year-end championship while only dropping 2 sets!!! Over all she still won more tournaments. It's all relative!!! She made more money than he did as well! Even though he makes more on the ATP!!! She came back from the brink last year!!! This is a stupid comparison...there is none. SERENA ALL THE WAY!!!!!!

    planner
    planner

    the thing about it is that serena, while an amazing talent, does not play as much as the majority of the other players do, including rafa. 


    she has managed to keep the number of competitions she enters down so effectively that she has succeeded in preserving her body and her ability to play. this year, she played 2 less tournaments than nadal played but that has been the case consistantly for the past several years so she is effectively 'saving" her body and abilities and guarding them from being worn out. 


    in addition to that, her matches are not nearly as difficult as rafa's. rafa has had the hardest draws in every tournament he played except perhaps sao paulo. but congrats to both athletes as they have both been amazint this year. we look forward to more great and exciting tennis from them both in 2014.

    tennisrocks
    tennisrocks

    Rafa has much stiffer competition. All Serena has to do is show up and she's won 80% of her matches (which makes her an amazing player, no doubt). Nadal's year is stunning given all the talk a year ago that his career might be over, etc. Serena, of course, experienced such talk after the foot surgeries and blood clot. Her her or two after that were unbelievable. We didn't know if she'd ever return to form. But she did. And that's what Rafa did this year.

    cheesecakepie
    cheesecakepie

    Serena Williams is truly a player for the ages with a lot more to come!   The best!

    14owg60
    14owg60

    Serena - For one reason only - she is older. Nadal is still young and has  lot more years.  Serena encountered deeper competition against the young tennis girls like Sloane and Sabine who have less injuries and more energy.  It was not easy for Serena to accomplish what she did at her age and with her past health history.  SERENA no doubt!  Nguyen, you missed this one big time.

    Bad_Girl
    Bad_Girl

    Serena also won at least a set in every match she played  (the four matches she lost were all in 3 sets) no straight set loses the whole season. 

    PatrickFinley
    PatrickFinley

    La Serenissima had a better record on CLAY (28-0) than Rafa did in 2013.   

    Nadal lost almost as many matches to one person (Djokovic, 3) as Serena did to everyone on the planet (4).

    It's not even close.


    StephenLeeContreras
    StephenLeeContreras

    Serena is on fire. Im seriously considering getting my girls involved in tennis becuase of her.

    deloresb27
    deloresb27

    I would give it to Serena also, because she has been very consistent this years. Had she not rolled her ankle at the AO, she would have won the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. She reached the Quarter final at the AO and the  4th round at Wimbledon. Serena would have won all 4 grand slam this year.  My brother and I have always said, that a fit  and un-injuried Serena is difficult to beat. She will capture her 19th Grand slam at the Aussie Open. Serena has 500 points to defend at the Aussie Open, and 250 points at Wimbledon. Her chances at about 98% to win her 20th grand slam.

    In Regards to Cincinnati:

    Serena tank Cincinnati to Victoria. She almost said it in her post interview after she won the USO on CBS with Gail. Serena said she did not want the pressure of the media on her going into the USO. She would rather the pressure be put on Vika, because she was about to make history as being the oldest #1 and the only African-American female to  win 5 USO. She also was the oldest American to win 5 USO. That was enough pressure for her to tank Cincinnati.  Serena never served for a match and lost. Never!!  When I saw her lost her serve to Vika, then I knew she tank the match.


    pyro21
    pyro21

    I would give it to Serena for two reasons: Wimbledon and the year end championships. While Serena's 4th round loss at SW19(hoping she wins her 19th major at Wimbledon next year so I can use that again) was disappointing, Rafa lost in the 1st round. And Serena went undefeated after the US Open, while Rafa was the 2nd best player in the ATP at that time. 

    bridgepea1
    bridgepea1

    What competition did Nadal face?  The ATP has no one to challenge Nadal consistently.  At least  Serena had to battle hard against top 10 players especially in the season ending championships.  Nadal got steamrolled by Djokovic at the WTF.  Serena played a full season.  She played from January straight through to November.  Nadal started his season in the middle of the season and went on from there.  There is no argument.  Serena wins this one hands down. 

    RosDopwell
    RosDopwell

    However ~~Serena came from deep down!  Serena had a sister murdered and she herself nearly died with *"a *Pulmonary Embolism / Thrombosis. She could have given-up on Tennis (have already accumulated - outstanding career statistics)  

    ClareLeach
    ClareLeach

    Serena. The four losses that she had were all tough 3 set losses. She start the year with a title and ended the year with a title plus she earned more money than Nadal.

    attheapollo
    attheapollo

    Before the U.S. Open it could really go either way, but Serena runs away with this argument based on her Fall season. The continued dominance was unbelievable to watch. Yes, Rafa's competition is much tougher (especially with Vika fading at the end), but losing in straights to David Ferrer is something Serena could've done against someone like Jelena Jankovic, but found that extra gear to survive even though she was on fumes.

    lopeztito933
    lopeztito933

    They both were amazing but Serena was simply sublime at her age!!!! Oldest #1, oldest USO & FO winner, 34, match winning streak, UNDEFEATED ON CLAY, only 4 losses to 78 victories, joined Graf, Evert, Martina as only 4 women in history to have multiple wins at each slam, 1st woman in history to win Sony Open 6 times, breaking tie with Graf, etc ...

    RobSmith1
    RobSmith1

    @RudyRamirez no body cares about your opinion in your fantasy world laced with hatred; all posters here are debating while you're busy hating. Serena sent Henin to permanent retirement by beating her at the aussie open, if you're that bitter, why don't you unretire these belgians with a total 11 slams? shouldn't they have won more since you claim they're the best!

    DickAdams
    DickAdams

    @gr8sou Nadal did not really compete against 26 major winners....fed...who owns 17 slams was a NON-FACTOR.

    Ace2020
    Ace2020

    @tennisrocks No one thought his career might be over. He was exaggerrating injuries as he always bloody does. I am no Serena fan but her year is clearly better. Nadal got owned by an injured Darcis at Wimbledon for heaven's sake, and let's not forget how lucky he was in the RG semi. Not just the net touch, the ridiculous call by the Umpire in the 3rd set too. 

    Let me guess, Rafa was injured at Wimbledon? It gets ridiculous, it really does.

    ClareLeach
    ClareLeach

    @deloresb27 How can she capture her 19th major at aussie open when she still is on her 17th?

    16914
    16914

    No one? I beg to differ, my case being a man named Novak Djokovic.

    danielmm
    danielmm

    I should also point out that, contrary to your view that Serena played a full season and Nadal played only half, Nadal actually played two more events than Serena did. Considering he started months after, it would seem his season on the whole was more demanding--playing more events in a compressed time frame.

    danielmm
    danielmm

    @bridgepea1 It's pretty foolish to say the ATP has no one to challenge Nadal consistently, particularly in comparison to Serena who actually doesn't have anyone to challenge her. Djokovic is a far better player and a much greater challenge to Nadal than anyone on the WTA tour is to Serena.

    ClareLeach
    ClareLeach

    @bridgepea1 I think the competition on the mens side is tougher than the womens. Serena is a class above most women players so that is how you can say she dominates. Nadal does not dominate like Serena. Murray and Djokovic are just as good if not better on certain surfaces than Nadal.

    deloresb27
    deloresb27

    @ClareLeach  Serena tank Cincinnati to Victoria. She almost said it in her post interviewafter she won the USO on CBS with Gail. Serena said she did not want the pressure of the media on her going into the USO. She would rather the pressure be put on Vika, because she was about to make history as being the oldest #1 and the only African-American female to  win 5 USO. She also was the oldest American to win 5 USO. That was enough pressure for her to tank Cincinnati.  Serena never served for a match and lost. Never!!  When I saw her lost her serve to Vika, then I knew she tank the match.

    danielmm
    danielmm

    @Ace2020 @tennisrocks For one, Nadal has said repeatedly that he never doubted he'd play tennis again, so if you heard that exaggeration, it was from someone other than him. Second, even if you ignore the severity (or not) of his injuries, the fact is he missed seven months, and even if he just took a seven-month vacation, coming back to elite competition after not playing tennis for so long is an amazing accomplishment.

    RobSmith1
    RobSmith1

    @ClareLeach When the competition isn't that good against a super-talented & dominant player like Serena, most would claim that the competition actually doesn't exist ...just laughable!!

    Serena makes the best players across generations look mediocre, doesn't mean she doesn't have competition, it means she's that GREAT!! Serena's always had great competition from Hingis, Henin, Venus, Capriati, Davenport, Clijsters, Mauresmo to Sharapova, Azarenka, Kuznetsova, Li Na, Safina, Jankovic, but the problem is that Serena dominates the H2H with all these players.

    To answer the question in this article, I would say both Serena and Nadal had amazing seasons, but Serena wins by a mile, she won on all continents while Nadal did not win an event after the USO, not even in Asia, instead Djokovic won all the big events after the USO ;)

    danielmm
    danielmm

    @RobSmith1 @ClareLeach Serena is obviously an all-time great who can succeed against any competition, weak or strong. She's proved that. But that doesn't mean her competition is always strong. Truthfully, he competition now is clearly not what it was in the early part of the decade. Before the WTA tour had Hingis, Sharapova, Henin, Capriati, Venus, Clijsters, etc... now it basically just has Azarenka and Sharapova. Li Na is fine, but not an all-time great. She's comparable to del Potro. The ATP is clearly stronger at this moment. 

    It's true Nadal didn't win after the US Open, but that isn't a very important part of the season, and he still reached multiple finals. More importantly, the already weak competition in the WTA right now as virtually non-existent post-USO. Sharapova was off the tour, leaving just Azarenka as a real threat, and she completely disappeared. So I think when you factor that in, the two and three events they played, respectively, after the US Open don't weigh that heavily in evaluating their years as a whole.