Overtime: Rafael Nadal is the unstoppable force

OvertimeRafael Nadal’s magic number is four. Four more grand slam titles and he’ll stand beside the cat to his mouse, Roger Federer.

We like to observe the chase for championships in sports.

Will LeBron ever match Jordan? Can Brady reach Montana? Is Tiger going to supplant Nicklaus?

With his steamrolling of Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open, Nadal confirmed it’s time to add his hunt to the list.

So, will Rafa hoist a 17th grand slam trophy? No, it’s more like when will he hoist his 17th grand slam trophy?

And how many more will he raise after that?

Nadal and Federer represent the thunder and lightning of tennis.

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Nadal is a brute. He attacks the ball violently and keeps a crippling pace. His overwhelming style is akin to Jim Brown running with the football.

Federer was an artist — but sadly, past tense is necessary here. He floated across the court and threaded the needle in unimaginable ways. His brand of play was comparable to “Pistol” Pete Maravich with a basketball.

Their two careers overlapped to create a monster of a rivalry. They met at eight grand slams over the course of five years. The Nadal-Federer title duel at Wimbledon ‘08 is the match we’ll leave behind for the next species to define tennis.

Federer is widely considered the best player ever. His 17 grand slam wins is a record. He also made the semifinal of 25 consecutive grand slams, which is absurd. As of today, it’s hard to argue against that resume.

Have I appropriately built up Federer? Good. Now you should know that, of those eight slams the two met up for, Nadal won six. Nadal is 21-10 all-time versus Federer.

This isn’t a two-man sport, though. Novak Djokovic is carving out a special place in history with his six titles, and Andy Murray is slowly becoming the savior of British tennis.

The path to greatness isn’t easy in this climate — it’s filled with potential roadblocks. The competition makes Nadal and Federer’s accomplishments extra impressive.

Nadal’s separation from Federer could come through the French Open alone. He is, as they say, the “King of Clay.” He’s won the last eight of nine French Opens, and his sole loss was more shocking than a John Cena heel turn.

Winning the next four tournaments on clay is a realistic proposition for the King. At 27, he’s still operating in his prime years. Sprinkle in a couple hard court titles and one on grass, and you’ve got Rafa at 20 grand slams.

That projection is more of a likely case than a best case. I won’t put all my chips on it, but I’m not risking everything to bet against it either.

I strongly believe Nadal will get to 17. And I’m pretty confident he’ll go at least one grand slam beyond that.

This is where the “if” comes in. Nadal’s future has no ceilings … if he stays healthy. He can secure a spot for one at the top … if he doesn’t hit a physical wall.

Maintaining such a powerful and reckless style could be impossible. Nadal detractors will keep their fingers crossed that his body shuts down — if it doesn’t, there will be no stopping the bull.

I can’t make you like or watch tennis. But I hope to make you understand and appreciate the tenacious excellence of Nadal. His chase is meaningful, and he’s approaching it like a freight train.

Photo by Yann Caradec/Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Yann Caradec/Wikimedia Commons


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