March 18, 2022, 01.09 PM


KOMPAS.com - As Rafael Nadal burst the brittle shell of the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) race with his win over Daniil Medvedev in the 2022 Australian Open to claim his 21st Grand Slam title, the GOAT debate has become hotter than ever.

From being the outsider whose distractors wrote him off as only a Clay court genius and whose injuries put doubts on his participation, Nadal has turned the tennis world upside down by winning his 21st Slam and becoming only the fourth man in history to claim multiple crowns at each of the majors.

Nadal has upped the notch and raised the bar as he always has done throughout his career. I could write chronicles about Nadal’s style, personality, behavior, and rationality. However, this article is about the claim to GOAT status and I analyze only that.

In that context, the year 2022 will be a defining for tennis. The fulcrum for the GOAT is delicately pivoted on just a few matches, a few points, and a few chances taken. The possibility of Nadal winning another French and extending the lead seems likely given his win third win of the year in Mexico. With Novak Djokovic showing nerves in a straight-set loss to Medvedev in New York, covering up with three more Slams would be a heavy burden. However, just like Roger Federer and Nadal have their defining opportunities, Novak can end the debate with just one more French open title which will catapult him to being the only one ever to have won all majors three times.

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At the same time, it is not going to be easy for any of the veterans because their fallibility has caught the attention of the younger players. There was a time when opponents facing Federer in Wimbledon, Nadal in French, and Novak in Australia would book cheaper tickets in advance for the evening of the match day to save the hotel expenses. Today, that is not the case and many juniors fathom their chances.

Dominic Thiem would certainly look for redemption in Paris and a defensive Medvedev might want to make adjustments to suit the slower bounce on clay. Nadal being a favorite based on his records and his rejuvenation in Australia would still have to be vary of shocks. We leave the future possibilities aside for the time being and discuss what we have in hand.

For the records, it would be pertinent to say that when Federer lost 2008 Wimbledon in 5 hard-fought sets, not many had expected a GOAT debate to split up into two. Hardly anyone raised the eyebrow as Federer’s streak of 237 weeks at the top of the rankings ended and shifted to the young Spaniard. Things were still in control as the likable, soft-spoken ballet dancer of tennis paid back with his own French and Wimbledon triumphs same year, especially as it also meant he overhauled Pete Sampras record of 14 Grand Slams. By the end of 2010, it was accepted that Nadal was better on clay, and although Federer and Nadal have had some memorable matches in Philippe-Chatrier. Even today, many fans would argue that Federer’s lone French title was facilitated by Robin Soderling, who beat Nadal in that epic encounter.

Tennis equations started changing in 2011 when Novak Djokovic claimed 3 of the 4 Grand Slams and earned a well-deserved ranking number 1 on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Novak’s success was instantly a thorn in the eyes of tennis followers because as Nadal kept winning the French Open, the young Serb was eating into the Federer pie and shockingly biting huge chunks out of it.

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