Raging title favourites Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic enter the French Open poised to overtake Roger Federer on the all-time grand slam leaderboard.
But merely as a collective force.
Despite being written off as a Roland Garros pretender this year, nowhere is Federer’s legacy as the most successful player in tennis history better reflected than on the game’s majors list.
Federer, turning 32 in August, stands alone with 17 grand slam singles titles to his credit.
Nadal, with 11, and Djokovic, with six, have won 17 majors between them.
Yet Nadal’s brutal 6-1 6-3 clubbing of Federer in the Rome Masters final has once again renewed the age-old greatest-ever debate.
The Spaniard’s one-sided victory extended his winning record over Federer to 20-10 and sent Twitter into overdrive with tennis fans and critics questioning the Swiss master’s status as the so-called GOAT – greatest of all time.
With 36 wins in 38 matches – and six titles from eight events – since returning from a seven-month layoff in February, Nadal is odds-on to hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an eighth time.
Such a feat would elevate Nadal above Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver to equal third alongside Roy Emerson on the all-time grand slam leaderboard behind only Federer and Pete Sampras (14).
But Australian Ken Rosewall, an eight-time major winner and the 1953 and 1968 French champion, is one legend backing Federer’s benchmark number to remain untouched – and possibly even extended.
“Nadal is proving he’s got the wood on almost any player in the world,” Rosewall told Fox Sports.
“He’s been off with injury and he’s come back very strongly.
“But I think he’ll find it tough getting to the number of grand slams that Roger has won.
“I’d like to think (Roger’s) got another one or two grand slams in him.
“He’s fit enough. As long as he retains the desire and has good family support, I think he will stay in the game.
“It would be a pity for him to retire. He’s really only losing to the top two or three players.
“He’s beating everybody else.”
Barring a sporting miracle, Nadal – or Djokovic – will reign in Paris on June 9 and take their combined grand slam tally past Federer’s record individual haul.
But rather than argue over who is the greatest, perhaps it’s time to consider that in all likelihood both the greatest player and greatest claycourt exponent are wowing fans in the very same era.
With seven titles in Paris, Nadal – still just 26 – has already surpassed Borg’s old record of six.
His dominant head-to-head record over Federer, though, should be placed into perspective.
Thirteen of Nadal’s wins have come on clay, where the Majorcan is as close to invincible as any player has ever been on any surface.
Federer is no mug on dirt himself, losing four French Open finals to Nadal and winning the title in 2009, an enviable record placing the brilliant Swiss arguably amongst the best three claycourters of all-time.
On other surfaces, Federer leads Nadal 8-7, a more accurate reflection of the pair’s compelling rivalry.
The real question is: Should Federer’s legacy really be tainted because, at almost 32, the reigning Wimbledon champion remains classy enough to still contend with his younger rivals?
The answer is an emphatic no.
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