Rafael Nadal’s march towards tennis greatness continued this weekend as he led Spain to another Davis Cup title.
The magnificent world number one has now taken part in five of his country’s six Davis Cup wins overall, and, with 19 Grand Slam titles also under his belt, his overall haul of 24 crowns is unrivalled in tennis history.
Nadal’s victory over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov clinched the latest Spanish success to end a season which has seen the 33-year-old become the oldest ATP year-end number one ever. And it is his long-term rivalry with Roger Federer, the winner of a record 20 Grand Slams, which helps to support the claim that Nadal is tennis’ Cristiano Ronaldo, to Federer’s Lionel Messi.
Described by his Spain captain Sergi Bruguera as “out of this world” and almost alien-like, Nadal continues to reaffirm himself as one of the greatest players of all time. In 2020 he could even usurp Federer as the greatest Grand Slam champion in history, adding statistical weight to the argument that the 12-time French Open king is tennis’ finest ever product.
On only three occasions since 2005 has the ‘King of Clay’ not been the man to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires, and his dominance at Roland Garros certainly produces echoes of Ronaldo’s speciality in the Champions League, the premier footballing club competition in which the Portuguese has won a record five European Cups in his career.
Federer himself has previously spoken out about the Ronaldo/Messi comparison which is becoming more commonly adopted, two players in a particular vocation unrivalled. Nadal, like Ronaldo, has raw power and determination, he’s relentless and unmerciful. Federer and Messi: graceful, elegant, but ice-cool, precise and capable of things previously thought unimaginable.
"They asked me this question many times,” said Federer. “I heard that I am like Messi and Rafa like Cristiano, I do not know why, but both of the players are unbelievable and they achieved big things in football. People say I am more like Messi but I do not know."
This weekend Nadal demonstrated humility - a trait not usually associated with Ronaldo - as part of a team, with his win over Shapovalov sealing an emotional triumph for teammate Roberto Bautista Agut, whose father had died three days prior to the final and whose funeral Bautista Agut attended just the day before.
"An amazing week, a lot of things we went through - the father of Roberto passed away. A lot of things happened," Nadal said.
"I could not be happier. It has been an unforgettable moment in this amazing stadium. We can't thank the crowd enough. Our team spirit prevails."
Few sportspeople have ever inspired such awe and disbelief in their natural gifted abilities as Federer and Messi in their pomp, but respect must be paid to the ‘athletes’, the ones that have driven themselves to unimaginable success.
Is there really a ‘greatest of all time’? Yes there are certainly the stats, figures, medal-hauls, and bragging rights. But often ranking one player above all can dilute the respect a rivalry can produce. Nadal may very well not truly be tennis’ Ronaldo, nor Federer Messi. It is the highlighting of how privileged we are to watch two greats spur each other on and defy previously set - once thought unmatchable - standards time and time again.
As a generation, how lucky it is to be in a world of not just Messi and not just Ronaldo. Not just Federer and not just Nadal. We have all four of them rocking our world.