Not only was Rafael Nadal playing for the Australian Open title on Sunday, he also had the chance to move clear in the race to be crowned the GOAT of men’s tennis.
The number of Grand Slam titles is the most obvious and easiest metric for those who wish to determine – and not everyone does – who is the Greatest Of All Time.
Spaniard Nadal, 35, won in Melbourne to land his 21st major title, moving him one ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic after all three were tied on 20 Grand Slam singles victories.
From a clear frontrunner to a three-horse race
The race to be crowned the GOAT – in terms of major titles, at least – is tighter between the top three men than many thought it would ever be.
When Federer overtook Pete Sampras’ previous best mark – winning his 15th Grand Slam title, aged 27, at Wimbledon in 2009 – few thought he would ever be caught.
After winning at least one major in every year from 2003-2010, Federer’s trajectory began to plateau in 2011, the year Djokovic took his game to new heights.
Another Wimbledon title followed for Federer in 2012 but then, thanks to a combination of his rivals’ brilliance and his injuries, the Swiss player did not win another major for four years.
Most wrote him off as Nadal and Djokovic closed on his tally, before Federer’s renaissance in 2017 – when his rivals stumbled because of injury and loss of form – kept him at least three titles ahead.
How do they compare on different surfaces?
Some argue that Nadal’s utter dominance on the Roland Garros clay means he is perhaps not as complete an all-round player as Federer and Djokovic.
The ‘King of Clay’ has won 13 of his 21 major titles in Paris. Neither Federer nor Djokovic has been as dominant at one place, although nor has any other player – male or female – in the history of the sport.
But Federer and Djokovic do each have a Grand Slam they have bossed over the years, and at which they hold the record for the number of men’s titles won.
How have they fared against each other?
This is another area where Djokovic’s claims are strengthened. He has a better overall head-to-head record in his past meetings with both Federer and Nadal.
However, the Spaniard has a better record against the Serb in just their Grand Slam meetings, and has also come out on top more often when he has faced Federer.
How do they compare in terms of longevity?
Aside from Grand Slam titles, the length of time spent as the world number one is another indicator.
Djokovic has spent the most weeks in history at the top of the men’s rankings. The Serb has not been dislodged since February 2020 and, after Nadal beat world number two Medvedev, will be top of the rankings for a 357th week of his career.
That is well ahead of Federer’s 310 weeks, with Pete Sampras (287), Ivan Lendl (270), Jimmy Connors (268) and Nadal (209) trailing behind.