Monday, August 18, 2008
Nadal is #1 - Officially
At 12:00 AM today, Raphael Nadal eclipsed Roger Federer as the #1 tennis player in the world. This was not the result of a recent tournament, or Nadal's gold medal victory on Sunday in the Olympics, but rather how slowly the ATP assigns and updates points for each player. Federer held on to the #1 slot for a record 237 consecutive weeks. In comparison, Pete Sampras, who was #1 longer than any other player at 286 total weeks, and won more Grand Slam events (14) than anybody in history, only held the #1 ranked spot for 102 consecutive weeks at a time. What does that mean? It means that world class tennis is insanely competetive and holding on to the top spot for any amount of time longer than 1 year is extremely difficult, even for the best players in the history of the sport. Federer held on to it for longer than anybody else, and it took consecutive virtuoso performances by his nemesis before he relenquished the spot.
But dont think that because Federer lost the #1 spot he is anything remotely close to done. He is still, along with Nadal, in an entirely different class than anyone else on the ATP Tour, and possibly anyone else in history, as the sport is considered much more competetive now than it was even 15 years ago, let alone 30. And in this modern era, Federer dominated like nobody ever had. If Nadal had never been born, Federer would have already smashed every record in the book - not just half of them.
For Nadal, who at the tender age of 22, already has 5 Grand Slam chapmionships to his name, the sky is the limit. #11 ranked Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who Nadal defeated in the final in Beijing, said observantly, “He’s hitting many, many balls back.” Nadal is the best defensive player anybody on the tour has ever seen, and quite possibly the best defensive tennis player ever. He does not have the versatility or superweapons that Federer does, and his style is very much premised on his ability to outrun the ball, not outhit or outserve his opponents, so if he ever has serious knee or ankle problems, his career could come to a quick end. But right now, after winning his 4th straight French Open, an epic Wimbledon final against Federer that many are calling the greatest tennis match ever played, and a Gold medal in Beijing to top it all off, its clear to everyone who closely follows mens professional tennis who the #1 player in the world has been for the past 12 months. Tonight is just the coronation.