Point/Counter Point. A heated debate.

The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Biggie or 2pac? Celtics or Lakers? Pepsi or Coke?

These are age-old questions that can stir up quite a heated debate. In the current tennis world, there is only one question that belongs in that category. A question that has gained even more steam in light of a certain outcome at the 2010 US Open. A question that has blown up on our Talk Tennis message boards. A question that has torn families apart and brought known enemies together. OK, so that last one might be a bit exaggerated, but you get the point.

The question is this: Who is the greater tennis player – Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer?

So I brought this question to my co-worker, friend, fellow tennis enthusiast, and all around good guy, Spencer Boller, to have this debate. The following is the transcript from our email conversation. Read on and decide for yourself who won. Hint: It’s not Spencer.

Jason:

Well, Spencer, my formidable opponent, I think this is a much more difficult question to answer now that Rafa has won the US Open. He now has a career grand slam at the age of 24. The “King of Clay” is now the King of Every Surface.

If you can’t tell by now, I happen to think, no, I happen to know, that Nadal is the better player. He has a better backhand and is faster around the court. And not to mention, he doesn’t have a glaring weakness anymore now that he improved his serve. Unlike Federer, whose backhand gets picked on more than Screech in an episode of Saved by the Bell. And to top it all off, Nadal has more heart. Yea, I said it. Your move, Boller.

Spencer:

Yes. You, like many others, have fallen for the Spaniard, no?

The King of Clay, there’s no doubt about that. The King of “every” surface? Let’s not put the cart before the horse. He’s won one U.S. Open. Credit to Nadal, he completed the career Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open. Good for him. He had one formidable opponent during his run, and it happened to be Novak Djokovic in the final. Who else did he play? Oh yeah, he played a tired Verdasco. Anyone else?

Faster around the court? I’m not so sure about that one. Make no mistake, he gets to a lot of balls, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s faster than Fed. Not at all.

More heart? Did Fed not win his 16th Grand Slam this year? He could have retired before this year and still be considered the best ever. He still has the best overall game in tennis.

Jason:

I like the “cart before the horse” comment. That was a good one, but I don’t own a horse or a cart. Remember, a rolling stone gathers no moss. I don’t know what that means, but it seems appropriate to say.

I still stand by my “King of Every Surface” comment. Last time I checked, which was about 4 minutes ago, Nadal is the proud owner of the 2010 French Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles. Let’s see here, that would be clay, grass and hard courts right? Right. And he’s still fine-tuning his hard court game. Scary.

As far as his competition at this year’s US Open goes, it’s true, he did not have the hardest road to the finals. But that’s not his fault. He has no control over that. Murray was in his side of the draw but didn’t play up to expectations. You play whoever is across the net.

But let’s talk about Rafa’s favorite surface so far, clay. One word: completeandutterdomination. In 2010, Nadal won all 3 clay Masters Series event AND the French. Has Federer ever done something like that on grass or the hard court? No. And the scary part is, there isn’t anyone that can come close to overtaking Rafa on clay, especially in a 3 of 5 set tournament. You say Federer? Lest I remind you that the last time they faced each other, Nadal destroyed Fed by the score of 6-1,6-3,6-0. Roger was hungry that day and Nadal fed him a breadstick and a bagel. Ouch.

Yes, Nadal has more heart. More heart and more determination. He doesn’t take a point off and plays each point like it’s his last. You combine that with his talent, and you have yourself a great, great player.

Spencer:

I’m sorry, what surface do they play on in Australia? Oh yeah, hard court. I briefly got confused when you said Nadal is the “King of Every Surface,” being how Fed had won that one this year.

You ask the question if Fed has ever “done something like that on grass or hard court?” concerning Nadal’s 3 master’s series events plus the French. How about 5 consecutive Wimbledon Championships, as well as 5 consecutive U.S. Open Championships? Not to mention 4 straight years of winning both tournaments each year. That would be grass AND hard court in case you weren’t paying attention.

You tout Nadal’s prowess on clay, and yes, we all can agree he dominates when it comes to the French Open. Just an FYI, Fed reached the semifinals of the French for 5 straight years. No big deal, but I haven’t seen Nadal do that at the U.S. Open. Concerning the 4 Grand Slams, where does the French rank in prestige? Depending on who you are, it would probably rank 3rd, maybe 2nd. Either way, it’s most assuredly not number 1.

Let me give Nadal his due; he has won 3 of the 4 calendar Grand slams this year. When he accomplishes that feat twice more, he’ll tie Federer.

Heart and determination. Playing each and every point at 100% tips the scale in Nadal’s favor. A man after my own heart. I was brought up to play sports the same way. My golden retriever is the same when I throw the ball for him. That’s one of the things I love about him. Fortunately he hasn’t experienced any knee problems, cutting his ball fetching days short. Yet.

Jason:

OK Spencer Boller, if that is your real name, you make some compelling arguments. Yes, Federer has the 5 consecutive US Open and Wimbledon finals appearances, and that is a great achievement, but I’m talking about what Nadal did in a span of consecutive months, not years. The level of fitness, desire, mental fortitude it takes to play at the highest level for months at a time is unmatched by even the great Roger Federer.

And you bring up “Fed reached the semifinals of the French for 5 straight years.” Come on Spenny, you’ve seen Talladega Nights. We all know that if you’re not first, you’re last. Reaching the semifinals 5 straight years is like gloating that you’ve been a bridesmaid for 5 straight years. Never the bride. Why will no one love you in France Federer? WHY?! Nadal’s been a bride many times over at Roland Garros. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Rank in prestige you ask? That’s all a matter of opinion, no? (Finally snuck in my Nadal impersonation!)

Age is also important to note. Rafa is 5 years younger than Old Man River Fed. Both achieved success at an early age, but let’s examine what they have done at the same age. Let us compare apples to apples. And with that, I’d like to point you to Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

If this was chess match…

Check.

Spencer:

Okay Mr. Jason “I can’t be right if I’m constantly” Huang. (rhymes with long)

I think you shoot yourself in the foot with your argument of Nadal’s accomplishments over a few months, compared to what Fed had done over several years. How about 10 consecutive Grand Slam final appearances? Or 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances? This is impressive, no? Not to mention the consecutive weeks holding the #1 ranking.  Imagine the level of fitness, desire, mental fortitude AND HEALTH it takes to perform at that level for years, let alone months.

Revisiting the French Open and its prestige. Ah yes, all the great French Open champions since 1998….names like Bruguera, Moya, Costa, and Gaudio. All household names. In a few houses in Spain and Argentina, maybe. These one hit wonders don’t add a lot of merit to the red clay at Roland Garros, though I’m sure in their eyes, it’s the most prestigious Grand Slam. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Or in this case, different strokes for …. mediocre touring clay court specialists  that played well on clay for 2 weeks once in their career.

The chess metaphor is ironic, because with his 16th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, and in the spirit of winning it “down under”, Fed just might respond to you with:

“Check, mate.”

Jason:

Haha! That first line made me, how the kids say, “laugh out loud.” If this whole Tennis Warehouse thing doesn’t work out for you, I think you have a future in stand up comedy.

I don’t particularly like the condescending tone you took to the past French Open champions. They worked hard for those titles! Although, I will hand it to you that Bruguera, Moya, Costa, and Gaudio sound more like exotic cheeses than tennis champions. “Can you put a little of that Moya on the cracker for me?” Or, “Man, this Bruguera isn’t the best for fondue.” Or, “Whew! That Gaudio stinks but sure tastes great with a glass of Pinot!”

Like I said, what Federer did for all those years is great. But the difference between that and what Rafa did in a span of months is time. Federer had time to take a break, both mentally and physically, from year to year. Time to re-energize. Rafa had to be on his game day in and day out for months. No rest. Take a day off and that amazing streak of his would be over.

Now I’m not down playing any of Roger’s achievements. His 16 Grand Slams are an all time record (for now). His consistency over the years cannot and should not be overlooked. Let me put it this way: if Nadal did not exist, there would be no question that Roger Federer would be the greatest of all time. Not of his era, but of all time. There is no debating it like there is no debating that bacon is the greatest singular food of all time. But how can Federer be considered GOAT  or greater than Nadal when he is 7-14 against his biggest rival?! And 2-7 against him on the biggest stage: the finals of Grand Slams?

You can’t.

Since this is my blog, I get to make the rules. And the rule is that I have the final word. First and final word. I know, it’s not fair. I can hear you complaining over there. Would you like some Bruguera with that whine?

I want to thank you for taking time out to debate me on this topic. The pleasure was all yours. Since it’s too close to call, we’ll leave it up to the judges. And they score it…………drum roll please………. 9-8 in favor of……..me!

Like I said, it’s my blog.

Jason, TW

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