Rafael Nadal, the greatest of all time, GOAT, Grand Slam titles, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open

Those knees will never hold up. Its intensity is not lasting. His body will decompose in a few years. He will never have a long career.

That was Rafael Nadal’s stark assessment when he burst onto the scene and won the French Open as a teenager.

But nearly two decades later, the 35-year-old has left critics and rivals in his wake to sit at the top of the list of most won Grand Slam titles (21).

Watch Tennis Live with beIN SPORTS on Kayo. Live coverage of ATP + WTA Tour tournaments, including every match in the finals. New to Kayo? Start your free trial >

And now things are falling into place for Nadal to breach and remove the undisputed greatest tennis player of all time.

Nadal’s biggest rivals – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – sit one slam back on the slam list, but history’s cards have been stacked in favor of the Spaniard.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning a point on Sunday night. Getty.Source: Getty Images

Federer turns 40 this year and hasn’t won a major in over four years, while Djokovic’s vaccine stance could see him ruled out of future Grand Slams.

Djokovic was sensationally deported from Australia earlier this month due to his vaccination status and he could be banned from entering the country for three years.

Vaccinations are compulsory at Roland-Garros, but a loophole has emerged that will allow Djokovic to play despite the introduction of ‘no shot, no play’ rules.

French vaccination passports would include an exemption for those who have contracted the virus in the last six months.

Djokovic claimed to have tested positive on December 16 last year, meaning he would simply be eligible to compete given that the French Open is set to start on May 22 – in the 26-week window.

However, a BBC investigation has raised questions about the authenticity of this positive test.

Novak Djokovic from Serbia.Source: AFP

The British government continues to allow unvaccinated foreign athletes to play and train in the country, but no assurances have been offered regarding the Serbian star’s title defense at Wimbledon.

Djokovic is also at risk of being left out of the US Open, as the United States has already joined Australia in enforcing a mandatory vaccination policy for any foreign visitors entering the country.

Federer made just 13 appearances last year and underwent two knee surgeries in 2020 despite only playing six times.

He has played in just two of the last seven Grand Slams and retired injured in one of them, while pulling out of the Tokyo Olympics last year to rest his knee.

The next slam is the French Open where Federer won’t play and the major that Nadal has completely dominated throughout his career – winning 13 of the last 17 Roland Garros events.

Swiss Roger Federer.Source: AFP

Nadal missed Wimbledon and the US Open last year as he overcame a chronic foot problem – but the injury didn’t bother him in the Australian Open final on Sunday night.

Seven-time Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander said Nadal’s return to the GOAT conversation was nothing short of amazing.

“I have to say I thought he lost the race when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semi-finals last year,” Wilander said.

“That was it, I said to myself: ‘Nadal is out of the race. He won’t be able to. Maybe he wins another Frenchman, but probably not, and he won’t win the other tournaments.

“And suddenly we are there. It’s incredible.”

Another factor working in Nadal’s favor in the title race is that the next generation finally seems to have arrived.

Daniil Medvedev has already tasted Slam success, while Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz are all tipped to win majors.

Daniil Medvedev from Russia. GettySource: Getty Images

If Nadal can capitalize on his dominance on clay for another French Open or two, it could prove a bridge too far for his rivals to close the gap.

Djokovic has looked most likely to finish with the most slams, but he’s missed golden opportunities in recent years.

The Serbian superstar was the defending champion heading into the 2020 US Open but was fired for hitting a line umpire with a ball he hit in anger.

At the same tournament a year later, he was trying to overtake Nadal and Federer on the Grand Slam list when he succumbed to pressure and lost in straight sets to Medvedev.

That’s another thing that works in Nadal’s favor – he won’t be shackled by the pressure of trying to break the record and win 21 Slams.

Nadal did it in his first attempt (in the final), while Novak lost in his first attempt (US Open final) and Serena Williams lost her last four slam finals trying to break the record of all time by Margaret Court (24).

MORE NADAL VS MEDVEDEV NEWS

GREATEST: Nadal wins 21st major in biggest Aus Open final comeback

‘THIS GUY IS SUPERHUMAN’: How Rafa proved everyone wrong

RAFA RECORDS: First at 21, Federer’s historic feat will not be matched

Nadal once looked the least likely of the Big Three to win most Grand Slams – and the journey so far has not been without its challenges – but the knees held out and he was lucky in the end.

“With no disrespect to Djokovic, it’s about Nadal. Nadal hasn’t been in this conversation for so long because he’s injured,” former British champion Tim Henman told The Cube.

“We really didn’t understand or know how his foot was going to be and then he got Covid, he had more complications.

“So to finally arrive in Melbourne without having played tennis, he’s playing the first week of the year and you think, ‘OK, he’s got a few games under his belt’ – but those were just best-of-three sets. .

“He just created that momentum and for me the key word was belief. We all wondered and doubted that he could do it, but he was the one who believed in his own abilities.

Comments are closed.