MADRID — U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal returned home on Wednesday, insisting his latest tennis triumph did not qualify him as Spain's greatest athlete.
Nadal, who became the seventh player to complete a career grand slam with Monday's victory in New York, said any comparisons to the greats was "madness."
"As a tennis player, I took an important step forward with this and these have been six unforgettable months," Nadal said shortly after touching down at Madrid's Barajas airport. "I can't say that I'm the best Spanish sports person of all time because I have no idea. But it's an honor to be considered."
Nadal's 2010 triumphs, including French Open and Wimbledon titles, have brought his total of major championships to nine at age 24.
His successful season has been a big part of a tremendous year of international sporting success for Spain, which won soccer's World Cup for the fist time and saw Alberto Contador win his third Tour de France.
"I don't know where (my successes) fit into this year. They are all important," the top-ranked Nadal said. "Luckily, we're living during an era of Spanish sport that will be difficult to repeat. Of course, we could repeat it, but we should enjoy it (now)."
Among Spain's greatest athletes are the likes of five-time Tour champion Miguel Indurain and two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso.
While Nadal has replaced four-time major champion Manolo Santana as the country's greatest tennis player, the Mallorca native still feels he has room for improvement.
"I'm not a complete player – there are always things I can improve," Nadal said. "(But) I'm so happy with everything that happened and can't ask for anything more"
Nadal said winning three majors in 2010 wasn't necessarily better than 2008, when he won his first Wimbledon crown and Olympic gold, something he considered more difficult than a Grand Slam title given the four-year gap between Olympic games. He also preferred to wait and see how he fares in the ATP final in November in London.
Nadal, whose improved serve helped him drop only one set at the U.S. Open en route to beating Novak Djokovic in the final, said his main rival Roger Federer was still the benchmark of the sport and should not be written off.
The second-ranked Swiss player, who has won a record 16 major singles titles, wasted two match points in his semifinal defeat to Djokovic.
"I would love to have the success of Federer," Nadal said. "In nine years, he's achieved things that are practically impossible to repeat. It's difficult to be 100 percent each year, but he's managed to do it and it's normal to have a little drop."