Who is the greater player – Federer or Nadal?

Date: January 21, 2014 / Posted by control

They are chalk and cheese, yet one thing is beyond dispute, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are true champions of their sport.

Federer is very much the traditionalist, ice cool and an exponent of the old-fashioned one-handed backhand. He seems to play an effortless game, generating power that belies his slender build.

Nadal is the raging bull, always fidgeting and on the move. He possesses the physique of a boxer and used to proudly display it with his penchant for sleeveless shirts. He uses those attributes, and a large dose of top-spin, to batter opponents into submission.

Between them they have won 30 grand slam singles titles – Federer’s 17 is an all-time record – and amassed prize money nearing US$150m.

Unlike some top-flight sporting rivals the pair share a strong mutual admiration for each other’s game and exploits with praise flowing easily for the other’s ability and sportsmanship.

In recent years the general consensus has been that Federer and Rod Laver – the only player in the sport to achieve the calendar year grand slam twice – are the two greatest male players of all-time.

Comparing players who plied their trade nearly four decades apart is wrought with problems and conjecture. However, comparing contemporaries is a lot easier. With that in mind, who is actually the better player between Federer and Nadal, the current world number one?

Age wise, Nadal has the more time ahead of him to add to his 13 grand slam singles titles – if he wins on Sunday he will join Pete Sampras in joint second behind Federer. Nadal turns 28 in June while Federer will reach 33 in August.

If Nadal does lift the trophy at Melbourne Park he will join Laver and another Australian, Roy Emerson, as the only men to have won each of the four majors twice or more.

Federer is certainly still revered but perhaps no longer feared as he once was by his fellow top-ten opponents – he is currently ranked sixth in the world.

Following his second victory at Wimbledon in 2004 he reached the semi-finals or better at the next 22 majors as he ruled the world as undisputed king of the court. During that period he held the number one ranking for 237 consecutive weeks, an-all time record, as is his career 302 weeks at the top of the table. Nadal is currently in his 119th week as world number one.

Both men have a preferred surface with Federer having won seven titles on the grass courts of Wimbledon and Nadal eight on the red clay of Roland Garros, an all-time record where his win-loss stands at a staggering 59-1.

Conversely, Federer has won just once in Paris – in 2009, when Nadal was eliminated in the fourth round – and been runner-up four times, at the hands of Nadal on each occasion.

Nadal has been crowned Wimbledon champion twice – in 2008 when he beat Federer and 2010 when he overcame Tomas Berdych. He has also been runner-up three times with the first two losses coming against Federer.

In all, Federer has contested 24 grand slam finals for his 17 titles while Nadal has won his 13 trophies from 18 finals appearances, giving the Swiss a winning percentage in the biggest matches on the tour of 71 and Nadal 72.

Federer has a career win-loss record of 260-41 from the 58 grand slams he has contested for a winning percentage of 86.4 while Nadal’s is 88.1 on the back of a win-loss of 171-23 from 37 appearances (up to the end of the US Open in 2013).

Federer has won the year-ending ATP Championship – which brings together the top-8 players in the world – a record six times while Nadal has appeared in two finals without success.

Nadal has won a record 26 ATP World Masters 1000 tournaments – the nine biggest tournaments outside the grand slams – with Federer’s 21 placing him in third overall, one behind Ivan Lendl.

Nadal (83.7) has the best winning percentage in the Open Era for players who have notched up over 400 victories while Federer is in sixth spot with 81.1%.

In all, Federer is equal third with John McEnroe in career titles in the Open Era with 77, trailing Jimmy Connor (110) and Ivan Lendl (94). Nadal sits in eighth position with 61 singles titles.

Federer and Nadal have been rivals since they first met at the 2004 Miami Masters where the Spaniard won in straight sets. Between July 2005 and August 2009 they were the top-two in the rankings. They are the only pair of men to have been ranked in the top two for six consecutive calendar years, a feat that underlines their longevity as rivals.

As a result of that record the pair has met 20 times in finals, including a record eight in grand slams. In those eight grand slam deciders Nadal has come out on top six times – his two losses coming at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007.

Overall they have clashed 32 times on the ATP Tour with Nadal holding a convincing 22-10 advantage, although it should be noted that 15 of those encounters have been played on his favoured clay courts. Eleven of those meetings have gone to a deciding set.

Federer has been incredibly resilient with the current Australian Open his 57th consecutive grand slam tournament. Nadal has missed four grand slams through injury – 2006 & 2013 Australian Open, 2009 Wimbledon, and the 2012 US Open.

Federer’s success rate has fallen away in the past few years with his win at Wimbledon in 2012 the only major he has won from his past 15 attempts leading into this year’s Australian Open. He is five years older than Nadal. In the last five calendar years Federer has won four singles grand slam titles. Interestingly, if Nadal was to replicate that output he would have the same number of grand slam titles – 17 – at the same age that Federer is now.

Whether Federer can conjure another win in a slam remains debatable. This year’s Wimbledon may represent his best chance. Nadal, should he stay fit and healthy, seems destined to add to his tally. Time alone will tell whether he can eclipse Federer’s record.

Regardless, he has already constructed a record that stands up extremely well against the man who so often is spoken about in tandem with the great Rod Laver.

Already his record shows that he should be bracketed with Federer and Laver when it comes to discussing the merits of who is the best of all-time.

First published on ‘The Roar’ – theroar.com.au – on 20 January 2014

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