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Case FOR Nadal. From Wuiches. Thanks.

Posted by tennisplanet on October 13, 2010


At this point of their careers I do think that Roger is the best of both. His records sheet is just amazing. However I think that they are not competing in equal circumstances.

Tennis has a complexity, it’s played in 3 different scenarios that change considerably the skills needed to succeed on each one. There are a lot of examples that prove that, past and present.

That’s why I consider that to compare 2 tennis players you must be able to compare each player’s performance on each of the 3 surfaces that tennis has. But to see such performance you must give them exactly the same opportunities on each surface.

All of you say: “Roger has won 100 titles per year during 100 years” or “Roger has been the #1 for 100 years” or “Roger has won 100 slams”. It’s true he has been impressive, but also keep in mind that Roger has had much more chances than Nadal to reach such numbers.

Roger is a hard court specialist. All of you know that the ATP calendar has almost 70% of the tournaments on hard courts, 2 out of 4 GS and 6 out of 9 1000’s(and Rafa has more). Now imagine this scenario, where would Nadal be right now if the Calendar was exactly the opposite, 2 clay slams and 6 1000’s and 70% of the calendar on clay every year? And where would Roger be? Nadal would have now more than 60 clay titles(now has 29) including 10 slams! And of course he would be the #1 since 2005!!!

I’m not saying that because of this Nadal is better, in fact Roger has proved to be so far the best all court player of his generation and maybe all time (so far), that’s why I consider him a much greater player than Sampras, because Sampras performance on slow courts was almost non-existent, even at the OZ he had a “bad performance” compared to the USO and Wimby being the OZ a much slower court than the other 2.

Again, I’m not saying that for this Nadal is the best, I’m just asking you not to be so unfair with the kid, actually he has a hard court record a little bit better than Roger’s clay court record. If we had 3 1000’s on each surface, 3 slams per year 1 on each surface, and the same amount of 250’s and 500’s on each surface so every player can sign on his favorite tournament then we would have equal circumstances to compare each player performance on each surface and then we could compare their records sheet.

I’m just saying that this is another reason (age) why is so difficult to compare them.


23 Responses to “Case FOR Nadal. From Wuiches. Thanks.”

  1. Claire said

    I totally agree that there should be equal number of tournaments on all 3 surfaces! Why isn’t there? Maybe because it is harder to maintain grass and clay courts?

    • wuiches said

      yes of course, maintenance is too expensive.

      • Jenny said

        Very true. There are very few grass tourneys which is a shame, but those courts still have to be maintained by professionals all year long. Two weeks play at Wimby [18 courts], one week Queens, Eastbourne – 50 weeks general maintenance. I wish the ATP would elevate Queens status to a 500 series event, it’s a prestigious tourney, the top players enjoy competing there and it’s always well attended. That said, I think the venue is too small for a higher status to be awarded. It’s still lopsided to me given the large number of hard court tourneys. All the European grass tourneys are still only 250 series. If the ATP argue roof, I believe Halle has a retractable roof? Anyone know the capacity at Halle?

      • M said

        Jenny, Halle seats 12,300 – same as the capacity at the Omni Bercy (where the Paris Masters has been held, though I thought I’d heard that might change this year …?).

  2. Super Mario said

    If all the tournaments were on clay, Rafael’s knees would have disintegrated long ago. In addition he wouldn’t have had as much incentive to improve his all-round game. So in short, I’m not even convinced he’d be the champion he is today.

    • wuiches said

      Because of the fact that you can slide on clay

    • wuiches said

      Because of the fact that you can slide on clay all the weight of the body doesn’t fall over the knees, clay is the healthiest surface of tennis.

      On hard courts when you are running and suddenly stop all the weight falls over the knees, that’s the worst surface for the knees and lower back.

      “In addition he wouldn’t have had as much incentive to improve his all-round game.” No way to know!!!

      • Jenny said

        True, clay and grass are the easiest on the joints, it’s the transition to hard courts which can cause problems. The controlled slide on clay is a skilled weapon in it’s own right and those born and bred on the dirt tend to be the best movers on that surface. Not all players can slide successfully, they don’t feel confident underfoot, and they can end up looking like Bambi on ice, by the time they recover their footwork that ball has whizzed past them like a rocket!

      • Super Mario said

        (I may be posting this twice as I can’t remember if it worked the first time – if so, my apologies!)

        1. Point taken. I guess I have in mind point length and match length, but it is true that with Nadal on clay, matches are never that long. 🙂 But I also have in mind that Nadal’s knee problems first surfaced at the end of the clay season.

        2. I think the big reason Nadal has recently attracted so many more fans, even some from the Federer cult – including myself – is that he’s worked himself out of his comfort zone on clay. Watching that transformation has been a humbling experience for anyone. Would he have done that if clay were the hard court equivalent of today? Would he be the same champion, would he stand so strongly for the counterpoint to Federer in proving that determination counts just as much as talent? It’s a matter of opinion, but I just don’t see that being the case.

        Anyway enough already, I’m a Nadal fan so vamos Rafa! And I like your basic premise – I will be forwarding this at once to all my friends who are still of the Federer persuasion. Any abuse I receive will be promptly passed back to you, the author.

  3. Serran said

    Wuiches, thank you for sharing this. Your analysis is very well thought. However, I find that there’s something that also needs to be considered.

    I also believe that Federer is the best player, as things stand today. But you see, I do believe that they are competing in equal circumstances. In my opinion, the current distribution of surfaces in the calendar is not an excuse or a point in favor of Nadal. I don’t believe that you must compare players on a per-surface basis. I believe that when you decide to become a professional tennis player and you’re starting to evolve your game, you should take into account not just the surface you feel most comfortable in, but the overall distribution of the sport, how you can be the most competitive in the long term, to have a successful career.

    My point is: When Rafa started to become the ultimate player on clay, he already knew that he was getting himself into a niche that would be hard to get out of. He already knew that there was only one Slam and 3 Masters 1000, compared to 2 and 6 for hard courts. That’s why I don’t think it’s warranted to say now that if the calendar was the other way around he would have outperformed what Federer has done these last 5 years. The fact that he deliberately refused to work on key areas of his game until well into his career (serve, volley, etc.), therefore making him more vulnerable on faster surfaces is, in my opinion, inexcusable.

    To his credit, he has more than compensated for that now in the last two seasons, and has finally become a complete player, if not without room for improvement. And his hard court record is stellar, of course, which only makes you wonder how much greater it could have been if he had worked on those areas from the very beginning.

    Obviously he still would have been an awesome clay courter, that just comes naturally to him. Maybe not a five-time French Open champion, but who knows.

    The game is the way it is. It has been like this now for a long time. If you want to compete you have to adapt to the sport, not the other way around.

    Now, would it be fairer if the surfaces were equally distributed?. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I wish there was a greater grass presence, too. Obviously at the expense of the hard courts. But in my opinion all of this is just wishful thinking, and it doesn’t decide who is a better player today.

    • Jenny said

      Agreed. If the Spanish players had stuck to their comfort zone on clay and didn’t evolve and strive to improve, they would be unable to compete successfully on the big stage today. Moya and Ferrero started the ball rolling in that respect. Now we have Garcia Lopez in the frame. These guys are all court players and IMHO it makes some fans feel rather uncomfortable.

    • Super Mario said

      That’s a very good point. Another way of making the same point is Federer would likely have trained very differently, and thus been a very different player – more likely more potent on clay – had the calendar been set the way you put it, Wuiches.

      I’ll guess Roger trained his whole youth with Wimbledon in mind, dreaming about in bed, knowing there would be knock-on benefits on hard court performance. While Rafa was left to camp out and fight for food with untamed horses after running 200 miles in dust.

    • Serran said

      OK, let me just throw something out there and see what happens. It’s an idea: The simplest explanation in the case of Rafa is probably that he exceeded even his own wildest expectations, and at a very young age.

      It’s easy to imagine that Tony probably expected to have a good tennis player in his hands, but not THIS good. He probably would have been happy squeezing out a couple of French Opens and several clay Masters 1000, with the occasional minor hard court title. This would explain their planning, and it certainly would have been a great career, better than most. But, when Rafa completely annihilated the competition on clay, including the World No.1 player, they saw that they had something really special going on. Only maybe it was a little bit too late to change course now that they had committed to that line of action.

      In contrast to that, Federer was always told, from a very young age, that he could very well become the greatest player ever if he did the right things and worked really hard. That may have put pressure on his shoulders early on, but it definitely payed off. As a result, he tried to become as complete and strong a player as possible, because he had a very clear target in his mind: he wanted to be the best.

      In the end that lack of ambition in the Nadal camp may end up costing Rafa the GOAT status. But it doesn’t really matter, both are wonderful players, and both will have to live with the choices they made. And I’m sure neither of them regrets them one bit.

      Conclusion: don’t be afraid to dream big. The sky is the limit.

      • chipnputt said

        Great theory but doesn’t work. If you read Rene Stauffer’s biography of Federer, you’ll see he was a bit of a late bloomer. While he was a Junior Wimbledon Champion in 1998, he didn’t win his first ATP event until 2001 when he was 20 years old. Most prodigies have a GS or two in the bag by then.

      • Serran said

        I know, he is definitely a late bloomer in terms of titles, but not so in terms of talent and projection. That’s why I said that it may have put pressure on his shoulders early on. Federer himself has said on multiple occasions that it was very hard for him to cope with everybody’s expectations when he was young, and it took him a long time to relax and finally break through. Everybody expected him to win and it was frustrating to him to lose some matches that, in his mind, he deserved to win. I believe Peter Lundgren played a great part in that transformation.

      • Jenny said

        As with so many of the highly talented players, eg Safin, a mercurial ‘artistic’ temperament came into play in those early days with Fed, he was a racquet smasher. Lundgren helped him balance in that regard.

  4. chipnputt said

    Good post Wuiches. However, to say that Nadal would have achieved more if there were more matches on clay, while true, is irrelevant. It’s like saying Ivanisevic would be one of the all time greats if the entire season was played on grass. Or Bruguera on clay. The season is what it is (and they all know that when they decided to become pros) and having a game that does well on all surfaces is part of establishing one’s greatness, just like golfers have to adapt to all sorts of courses and all sorts of weather conditions.

    However, the thing to admire about Rafa is how hard he has worked to improve since he came back from his injury. Some changes are obvious like his serve or net play, others are more subtle as he stands closer to the baseline now than he has ever done before. As McEnroe said, he has never seen a player improve as much as Nadal given the level from which the improvements were starting. Contrast that with Federer who played 3 FO finals against Nadal and came with exactly the same game plan and arsenal of strokes in each one of them despite it not having worked before. Finally, in 2009 he came armed with a drop shot but then Nadal never showed up for their date, so we’ll never know.

    In golf, we say it’s not about how good your good shots are, it’s about how how good your bad shots are. And that’s the way I like to think of tennis players — how good are you on the surface that you like the least? To me that is where Roger has been fantastic — 4 FO finals in a row, with one win. Can you imagine his record if he didn’t have the greatest clay-courter of all time in his way? His prowess on clay is where, to me at least, he left Sampras well behind, for I’m not sure there was much to choose between them on hard courts and grass. Rafa isn’t there yet for his most uncomfortable surface is the decoturf (yes, hard courts are of many kinds) of the US Open season. Until this year, his record was mediocre at best. But he is working hard to get there and this years USO may just be the beginning. He is just getting to the peak of his career. Let’s see how it plays out.

    • Jenny said

      However, to say that Nadal would have achieved more if there were more matches on clay, while true, is irrelevant. It’s like saying Ivanisevic would be one of the all time greats if the entire season was played on grass. Or Bruguera on clay. The season is what it is (and they all know that when they decided to become pros) and having a game that does well on all surfaces is part of establishing one’s greatness, just like golfers have to adapt to all sorts of courses and all sorts of weather conditions.


    • wuiches said

      You mean Sampras, 7 times Wimbledon champion, how can you compare Ivanisevic and Bruguera to Nadal!!!

      Their records doesn’t lead you to think that they would’ve done so many great things if they would’ve had more tournaments on their favorite surface. Nadal completely overcomes those guys!!!

      Now imagine Sampras with Laver’s conditions. In Laver’s time 3 of the 4 slams were on grass. How many slams would Sampras have now in those circumstances???

      That’s my point, the opportunity would be much more bigger for him, Sampras was on grass what Roger is on hard courts.

  5. chieko said

    Great post and great comment. Thank you very much.

  6. Andy said

    Even if we do a hypothetical with Wuiches’ interesting point about 2 Clay Majors, it should be noted in this discussion in support of FED’s case (and so I will) that Fed would STILL, even in that scenario, be well ahead on TWO out of the three surfaces.

    If we, for example, pretend the AO was played on clay and give Rafa ALL 6 clay AOs from 2005, all other things being equal, the record books would look like this:

    6 Wimbys (Grass)
    5 USO (Hard)
    1 FO (Clay)
    0 AO (Clay)

    2 Wimbys (Grass)
    1 USO (Hard)
    5 FO (Clay)
    6 AO (Clay)

    The other point that should be noted in this discussion in support of FED’s case (and so I will) is that even in this scenario, the Major totals are very close (at only 14-12 for Rafa).

    Now, sure, of course I know the answer to the above is that Rafa is only 24 years old and that by the time he is Roger’s age his numbers will likely be higher, maybe much higher. But, still, does it not speak VOLUMES about Fed’s accomplishments that we can do this hypothetical and he can STILL very clearly, at this point in time anyway, be right in the running for GOAT status.

    I mean, even with this hypothetical, wouldn’t a lot of the pundits be saying:

    “How can we call Rafa the undisputed GOAT if Roger holds a huge lead in Majors at 2 out of the 3 surfaces that the game is played on?”

    By the way, a lot of those pundits, especially ones named Andy, Sol and Banti would also add that we should therefore “not be so unfair with the OLD MAN.” Why? Because even with this hypothetical, it would have been Fed, not Rafa, who would have accomplished his feats with mountainloads of pressure on his back.

    • Andy said

      By the way, two more points hit me today while watching Koto-chan (our almost one year old baby girl) sleeping. Not sure why tennis popped into her Papa’s head just then.

      First, when Fed was 24 (Rafa’s age now) in October of 2005, he had 3 Wimbys, 2 USO and 1 AO on his resume. So even if we do the hypothetical above by equalizing their ages Fed would still be up on two out of the three surfaces (eliminating the AO, which we are pretending was on clay and owned by Rafa, it would be 3-2 on Grass, and 2-1 on Hard for Fed measured when both players were 24). So although Wuiches’s point about Nadal being Number 1 since 2005 in this hypothetical scenario is very likely true, it would not be as clear cut as one might think. It would not be like some “clay court specialist” interupting the otherwise dominant year of Sampras in the ’90s. It would be a guy in Rafa’s reign as Number 1 who would actually be outperforming Rafa on two out of the three surfaces.

      The other point is that we have to presume in this scenario that Fed is also making it to at least some, and maybe even almost all, of the finals of that second clay major before bowing out to Rafa, the greatest clay court player ever.

      That would also raise some questions by the naysayer pundits out there in this hypothetical situation. They would probably say something like,

      “Hey, the Number 2 guy from Switzerland not only seems to be doing better than the Number 1 guy from Spain on two out of the three surfaces, but he is making it to more Major finals on clay than the Number 1 guy is making on grass and hard.”

      And who knows, they might even add something like,


  7. Bjornino said

    Very nice post Wuiches! Respect.

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