BORIS BECKER: Nadal drew level with Federer on 20 Grand Slams after winning an incredible 13th French Open title against Djokovic… but Roger still comes out on top when you measure the legends up (just!)
- Both players are extremely popular due to their conduct as well as their tennis
- Nadal wins the battle of the forehands while Federer is a superior volleyer
- Djokovic is on 17 majors and shouldn’t be written off despite Sunday’s loss
Rafael Nadal drew level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slams after beating Novak Djokovic to win the French Open on Sunday.
Nadal and Federer are two of the sport’s most adored players and are deservedly in the conversation to be recognised as the greatest of all time.
But who has achieved GOAT status in the eyes of another tennis legend? Here, six-time Grand Slam champion BORIS BECKER breaks down each man’s game and gives Sportsmail his opinion on the two men that have dominated the sport in recent memory.
Six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker breaks down Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer debate
Forehand (out of 10)
Roger 9: This shot is a bit of a throwback to the eighties, a flatter stroke than Rafa’s without the extreme western grip. Devastating from anywhere on the court, but not quite the monster that the Spaniard possesses.
Rafa 10: A unique shot which sees him almost hit his head on the follow through. But that is what gives it so much power and spin, making it bounce up high in a way that has, in particular, broken down so many opposing backhands.
Roger 8: Again a classic old-school sort of stroke that has served Roger so well, and is especially good on quicker surfaces. His backhand slice, which imparts a deceptive amount of spin, is better than that of his rival.
Rafa 8: An area which ten years ago was a bit of a weakness in terms of variety but has massively improved. Rafa benefits from being ambidextrous and on the day I thought it was a key shot in winning Sunday’s final.
The topspin that Nadal generates on the ball with his forehand is unrivalled in tennis history
Roger 10: His hand-eye coordination is so good, and he picks up the ball so early, that he can do pretty much what he wants with his volley. As someone who has come to the net so often from early in his career, he is supremely comfortable there.
Rafa 9: He also has a fantastic eye and this would be an area of his game that is sometimes underrated. The baseline is his natural territory, but most players would love to have his touch around the net as well.
Roger 9: Incredibly accurate in terms of picking his spots and hard to read for his opponents. He also delivers a great second serve from what is another classical part of his game with a smooth and almost effortless-looking action.
Rafa 8: This can be put in the category of another area that Rafa has improved in the past ten years, as it was originally a weakness. He has adapted his technique to make it more powerful and varied.
Federer’s fluid service motion rarely breaks down under pressure and brings him lots of aces
Roger 9: Clearly not quite at the level now that it was ten years ago but still incredibly good for his age. Roger has always moved almost like a dancer and he uses small, quick steps to get himself into the right position.
Rafa 10: For someone of his size, and with his muscularity, he is an incredible mover. As we saw on Sunday, the way he scrambles around to get so many balls back from seemingly impossible situations is scarcely believable.
Roger 10: You could argue that clay has been a bit of a weakness, but obviously he has the edge over Rafa on grass. How do you not give 10 to someone who has won 20 Slams across the surfaces?
Rafa 10: Yes the majority of his Majors are on clay, but he has won Wimbledon twice and let’s not forget four US Opens over a nine-year timespan to go with his Australian Open. Again that has to make him a 10.
Roger 10: Perhaps not quite what it was at the peak of his career, but don’t be fooled by Roger’s demeanour. He is a ruthless competitor but probably just does it all with a bit more of a smile than Rafa does.
Rafa 10: A bit more of an open book, the Spaniard never veers from having that look of ferocious determination. He also possesses extraordinary powers of concentration over long periods.
Roger 10: You cannot argue with someone who is still at the top of the game when he is not that far off his 40th birthday. I think he still believes he can win another Slam, especially Wimbledon, otherwise he wouldn’t play.
Rafa 9: I am surprised he has kept on as long as he has with his intense game style. We cannot be sure what will happen to him between now and 39 but he is ultra professional with his lifestyle and recovery so can play on for a while.
Federer in disbelief after defeating Andy Roddick to claim his second Wimbledon title in 2004
Roger 10+: One of the great global ambassadors of sport, and maybe among the most famous people in the world. You could put him up there with the like of Ali or Jordan. He is probably even more well-liked than Rafa, but that is an incredibly high bar.
Rafa 10: I first met Rafa when he was 14 and can honestly say he hasn’t changed. I think people recognise his humility and the respectful way in which he carries himself. He is someone to be enormously admired.
Don’t forget Novak
The scoreline of Sunday’s final was probably a bit harsh on Djokovic. He did not play his best but I do not think he played as badly as it suggests. Even if he had been at his peak level I still do not think he would have beaten Nadal on that form.
A big factor was his semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. If he had closed that out in three sets instead of going to five on the Friday night I am sure we would have seen a closer final.
It would be very foolish to write him out of the scenario of who can end up winning the most Majors, especially as he could remain competitive for at least five years.
He regrouped well after what happened at the US Open and next up is the Major where he has such a phenomenal record, the Australian Open. So by the next French Open he could be within two of the others.
What will be fascinating to see is how quickly the younger pack take to close the gap on the incredible threesome.
The most recent of Novak Djokovic’s 17 Grand Slams was won at the Australian Open this year
Swiatek is a serial Grand Slam winner in the making and could lead the next evolution of the women’s game
Occasionally you see a player who arrives on the scene and changes the way the game is played, and I think Iga Swiatek might be one of this rare breed.
She certainly made a fan of me with her performances at Roland Garros, and I think the other top players in the game are going to have to look at her and make adjustments.
I would predict for sure is that the 19-year-old Pole is going to win multiple Grand Slams. One of the most remarkable statistics of the tournament was that she won a phenomenal 70% of her return games.
Iga Swiatek became the first woman in 13 years to win the French Open without dropping a set
Swiatek is not a player who waits for their opponent to make a mistake, she goes for it and stands forward to take the ball extremely early in a way slightly reminiscent of someone like Andre Agassi.
In the final you could see the difference between her and Sofia Kenin, who won the Australian Open. Kenin is a classic example of a counter puncher who wins by fighting hard. We have seen all that before but with Swiatek we saw something new.
She serves big and hits it very hard with unusual variety in her groundstrokes. Naomi Osaka does something similar in terms of power and we may now see a group of young players who are going to leave the others behind.
Naomi Osaka won the US Open last month as the women’s game’s old guard start to fade away
I thought Swiatek winning was great news for the women’s game but what we need to see is her following up on it and winning repeatedly. It is not good when one of them just pops up over a fortnight and then retreats, which is what has happened too often in recent years.
From what you see of the Pole this is going to happen. How refreshing to see a teenager come across as so natural, intelligent and articulate. She appears very grounded and this is going to help her cope with the pressures that she will now feel.
Roland Garros needs to prioritise player safety after scheduling meant Nadal played into the early hours
The new roof at Roland Garros arrived just in time to save the French Open and get it finished at what was an unusual time of year, and hopefully a one-off.
Just as at Wimbledon, how you use it is not always straightforward and they did not always get it right. Some of the scheduling could have been better.
Nadal and Jannik Sinner played until almost 1.30am under the roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier
There were times when the programming crossed the line and caused some unnecessary danger by having them play too late at night when conditions were cold and slippery. The match between Nadal and Jannik Sinner was an example.
It should be noted that even when played at its normal dates, there are years when Roland Garros has spells of cold and wet weather. They need to remember that going forward and not get over-ambitious with scheduling that could threaten fairness and the health of the players.
Elite women’s players need to become more assertive
Well done to the US Open and French Open for pulling off their events in difficult circumstances and salvaging something from these difficult times.
The men can also look forward to some more tournaments before the year is wrapped up but the situation of the women, whose programme is now extremely limited, is more concerning.
Say what you like about the views of top players like Novak Djokovic, but at least they have been vocal in trying to make sure there are tournaments to be played, such as the back-to-back events now just starting in Cologne.
Djokovic fought to get back-to-back tournaments in Cologne added to the men’s calendar
But where are the top women in asking questions and speaking out about their lack of playing opportunities and the apparent lack of direction at the WTA Tour? It comes across like 90% of them need the jobs while the top 10% don’t care.
I would have liked to have heard some influential voices from the women, some of whom did not even travel to Roland Garros, putting pressure on their leadership. It didn’t happen and now the women’s season is just going to peter out.
Tsitsipas and Zverev looking to take up the mantle once Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have stepped away
Tsitsipas and Zverev looking to We are now seeing the outline of what is going to come from the younger generation of men, once this incredible generation of thirtysomethings have finished.
I was very impressed with Stefanos Tsitsipas over the fortnight and the way he progressed after almost losing in the first round. He is on a level with Alex Zverev. I liked hearing both of them saying that they were no longer ‘Next Gen’ players but proper adults who need to start delivering.
Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten by Djokovic at Roland Garros after taking the Serb to five sets
Beneath them is an even younger crop who are going to be very good. The best looks to be Italy’s Jannik Sinner, who is a future Grand Slam champion for sure. The Canadian duo of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are also part of that, although I suspect their best results will not come on clay. Sebastian Korda is another one who catches the eye.
Dominic Thiem is of course older and winning this was going to ask a lot of him after the US Open. His match against Diego Schwartzman was one of the best of the year.
Those are the names who will ensure there is plenty of life after the current superstars inevitably fade away.
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