Simon Reed

Is Federer really the greatest when he’s always second-best to Nadal?

Simon Reed

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I always find it difficult to accept that Roger Federer can be the greatest player of all time yet have been second-best to someone for so much of his career.

I would not say that Rafael Nadal is quite ready to be proclaimed 'the GOAT' – he needs to at least match Federer’s 17 Grand Slams to settle the argument – but I find it increasingly difficult to accept that he could be rated beneath Roger.

Don’t get me wrong – without wanting to sit on the fence, I am equally a fan of both, and actually prefer watching Federer for his artistry; but Nadal’s energy and charisma are so exciting, and he's just so impressive.

Additionally, we must bear in mind that many of Federer’s Grand Slams came pre-Nadal, or when Nadal was his only major rival; Rafa continues to dominate in an era where Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have been at their peak, a peak that has seen them win multiple Slams.

But Cedric Pioline put it quite succinctly when he said that Federer made Nadal; the Swiss raised the bar so high that Nadal – and latterly Djokovic and Murray – were dragged kicking and screaming to the next level. It is arguably that, without Federer, Nadal would not have reached such heights, so quickly.

[NADAL BEATS FEDERER TO REACH FINAL]

The match itself was disappointing in a way. I thought Roger had a good chance due to his improved momentum – his winter fitness regime seemed to have paid off, the change of coach had rejuvenated him psychologically and, of course, he was playing the best tennis I’ve seen him play for a few years.

I think Roger also believed he had a strong chance too, with the added issue of Rafa’s blister injury giving him more confidence if the match went beyond three sets.

I expected a five-setter that could go either way but, as it happened, Roger appeared to be blindsided by Rafa’s form: Federer tried to go for him from the off, but Rafa not only resisted, he came back with all guns blazing.

The result was that Federer became confused tactically, was unable to get to the net as often as he wanted and subsequently made far too many errors. His defensive baseline play was excellent against Murray, but Nadal is in better physical shape and Federer could not stick with him.

Maybe it would have been different if Federer had taken back a set. Would Nadal have been able to go the distance with his hand injury?

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The only thing standing between Nadal and a 14th Grand Slam title is Stanislas Wawrinka.

Wawrinka has the game to take it to Rafa – he hits it incredibly hard, is an absolute fighter and is in the form of his life. There will be spectacular rallies, high-intensity from start to finish, and some real aggression from both men.

But the head-to-head makes for terrifying reading – 12 matches, 12 Nadal wins.

Stan hasn’t even taken a set off Rafa - although he is getting closer, having lost two narrow tie-breaks in their World Tour Finals match a few months ago.

My heart tells me Wawrinka will take at least a set off Rafa, simply because he is playing so well – but the head says Rafa in three.

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