I am writing this before the outcome of the Australian Open Final. But I will say now that no matter what happens in the final does not change the fact that Rafael Nadal is my hero and deserves the title of GOAT. In this article I will start with stating why he is my hero, why he should be all of ours, and why he is the greatest example in tennis today of prevailing against human suffering. My other big piece of this article will be about why he, more than anyone else deserves the title of GOAT.
Simply put, Nadal is my hero because he has overcome struggles. But much more than me, is that he has proved the naysayers wrong. While it's true that he always had the talent, he initially was confronted by the problem that he was for a long time, much younger than many of the other players in tournaments. When he was eight he won the under-12s Balearic Islands Championship. Prior to entering, there were many that doubted whether a boy so young could win such a prestigious age-grade tournament against boys of much older. After all, 3-4 years at that age often seems like an eternity. The biggest moments in Nadal's career when he has overcome the naysayers though, have been when he has been crippled by injury. Especially in 2005 when he injured his tarsal scaphoid bone in his foot. His doctor said that he wouldn't be able to play tennis again. His own father said that he may need to choose another sport. But overcome this injury Nadal did, with the help of some specially made shoe soles. In 2012 it was his knee that crippled him, an injury that may have been caused by the soles that have spared him from aggravating his tarsal scaphoid bone in his foot. People thought he was finished, and that finally this was the injury that would bring him down. But as we all saw in 2013, he swept the field in winning two Slams and taking home the U.S. Open title.
The frequently used point to the reason as to why Nadal cannot be classified as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) is that he doesn't have the record number of Slams. The argument always used when people (rightly) classify Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer. The problem with this though, is that tennis is more of a one on one game than golf. Essentially in golf, you are always playing against yourself. In tennis you are always playing against the guy on the other side of the net, which is why the head-to-head records in tennis are so hugely important. And Nadal is the only top player in this era who has a positive record against all of the other top players. The only other player who can rightly displace Nadal from this argument of the GOAT is Rod Laver. And the reason people will use this is that he won the only open-era Slam (all four) in 1969. This is a reasonable argument. But when did having one great year ever mean that someone is the GOAT? Again, to answer this I will turn back to golf.
Even though Tiger Woods has achieved an awful lot in the sport, there are still not many people around who rank him as greater than Jack. If one great year is argument enough for inclusion in the GOAT category, then Bobby Jones' Grand Slam in 1930 would place him as the GOAT. But when do we ever hear his name mentioned. The other big argument for Jack is that not only did he win 18 majors, he also came in second place 19 times. Federer has finished second in eight Slams, while Nadal has gotten second six times. Still, Federer has the got the numbers on him in this category. What now needs to be taken into consideration is that Nadal has often been hampered by injury. He has therefore missed a lot of Slams, he has been taken out early in some others, due often to injury.
If Nadal was sitting on a total right now of eight Slams, I don't think he would deserve so much discussion in the GOAT argument. But as he sits on a total of 14, his numbers aren't too shabby. He has built up a very respectable haul, despite being hampered by injury. There is also the fact that he has won all four Slams, the Davis Cup, Olympic Gold Medal, and a record number of Masters Series titles. In fact, I would argue that his high placing in total number of Slams won (2nd equal), his first in Masters series titles won, and his career Slam; places him in a higher category than Sampras, Borg, Connors, or Agassi. When it comes to deciding on him vs. Federer, their Grand Slam and Masters Series titles I think balance each other out. I think that his superior head-to-head record against Federer places him in the better position. When you add to this the factor that the common man can find more in common with Nadal than in Federer, this adds further weight to the Nadal argument. After all, how many of us are as naturally talented as Federer clearly is? It is said that Federer doesn't have to train as much as the other players. Wouldn't we all love to hardly train, and just be great?
I'm sure we would, but the fact is that for 99 percent of us, we have to struggle and fight our way through the world and to forge our place in it. Every time he goes out on the court we can all see Nadal doing this. Nadal is the ultimate fighter in tennis, and never gives up a point lightly. It was sad to see him having an off day against Thomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. He likely was affected by his back injury from last year and his subsequent lack of quality match practice. He is at a time now where he will try to come back from injury. He has done it many times before, and many fans will assume that he should just be able to do it again. Whether he does or doesn't, as a fan, I still and always will regard him as a personal hero of mine. He is in my eyes, the Greatest Player of All Time.