Slam record in reach for Rafa?
July, 4, 2010
By Ravi Ubha, ESPN.com | ESPN.com
Rafael Nadal is halfway to Roger Federer.
The question is, can he catch the Swiss in majors?
Nadal's emphatic 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win over a rising Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon on Sunday gave him eight majors, eight away from Federer's men's record of 16.
Working in his favor is the record books. The Spaniard, at 24 years and 31 days, became the second-youngest man to reach eight, behind only Bjorn Borg. Federer collected his eighth at Wimbledon in 2006, when he was about 10 months older.
For all the talk of Nadal effectively being a grinder, his serve has gotten a little bigger, he's more aggressive from the baseline, he has a nice little slice and he's no longer uncomfortable venturing to the net. No one on the tour is mentally tougher, evidenced by his glittering 8-2 record in Grand Slam finals.
Working against him, first and foremost, is his health. Nadal's ongoing knee problems, which he managed to overcome at SW19 this year, lead many to believe he'll struggle past his mid-20s (hello, Lleyton Hewitt). He lacks the fluid, more forgiving style of Federer.
Federer is in a slump, no longer the dominant force. But his Grand Slam tally probably won't stall at 16. He's bound to land one or two more. Further, Juan Martin del Potro could be a huge threat to Nadal when he returns to full strength. Robin Soderling might take a Slam or two away from Nadal, Andy Murray has to break through (doesn't he?) and Novak Djokovic showed signs of life this fortnight.
Although Nadal's likelihood of taking an extended break or retiring early is remote, there is a precedent as evidenced by Borg and John McEnroe.
We asked three former players, and now prominent tennis broadcasters, about Nadal's prospects of tying Federer on the Grand Slam ladder.
Darren Cahill, ESPN analyst and coaching consultant with adidas:
"You get the feeling he won't be giving up the No. 1 spot without a monumental fight in the coming years. He's a huge factor going into every major and will be in the foreseeable future. He's got the game, the heart, the fight and the belief. The only question will be, 'Can his body hold up to the incredible punishment he puts it through?'
"He's made smart adjustments to his training and playing schedule, and it's paying off. If it does, look out in a few years as he'll be breathing down Roger's neck in the majors count. Put it this way, he'll need more room in his trophy cabinet as there's plenty more silverware on the way. He's at eight and counting ... fast."
Patrick McEnroe, ESPN analyst and U.S. Davis Cup captain:
"He's certainly got a chance. I don't think he'll stay as healthy as Federer, and I don't see him dominating at 28 or 29 years old. But I think he could be effective for three to five more years. There's no telling how many more French Open and Wimbledons he can win. I believe that this year is his best chance ever to win the [U.S.] Open. With del Potro out and Federer questionable, he could go three-for-three."
Greg Rusedski, BBC analyst and 1997 U.S. Open finalist:
"If he stays healthy, yes. He's already started cutting down his schedule. He was younger than Federer when he got to eight. He's 24 years old. The next two years you think to yourself, he'll have at least four and that would give him 12 already. So by 27 or 28, he should be able to catch him.
"The other question is mentally because the way he plays, nothing is easy. The serve is better. We saw the slice serve very effective today. But then maybe he's got the mentality of a Hewitt or [Jimmy] Connors where he can do that all day."