• Chris Wilkinson

Nadal can break Federer's grand slam record

Chris Wilkinson September 9, 2013
Is Nadal v Djokovic the greatest rivalry in sport? © Getty Images

On Rafael Nadal's win over Novak Djokovic…

Rafael Nadal can go on and win 20 grand slams.

How many people are going to beat him at the French Open over the next few years? Not many. You would not bet against him winning at least three more titles at Roland Garros - and that takes him to within one of Roger Federer's 17.

And if he continues to hit the ball the way he is hitting it at the moment you can add a couple more hard court grand slams to that number, as well.

A few years back, when Pete Sampras led with 14, you thought no one would ever beat that. Then along came Federer with his 17 and we were thinking no player could surpass that. And now we are talking about Nadal who could go on and get 20 if he keeps fit and keeps playing.

Nine months ago he was not even playing, and now he has won 10 titles, including two slams, and remains unbeaten on hard. What he has achieved this year is phenomenal.

I read recently that his coach and uncle Toni Nadal said he was still playing through the pain, but he certainly looks all right. The seven months out has made him fresher and hungrier. Whereas other players are slogging it out week after week, Nadal has had time to assess the situation and what he needs to do with his knees and it's been a good thing for him. He did not play the Australian Open and then won the French. There was a bit of a hiccup at Wimbledon, caused by tiredness from the French, and now he has won the US Open.

Nadal's incredible 2013

  • Matches played: 63 Won: 60
  • Titles won: 10
  • Grand Slams: 2 (French and US Opens)
  • Prize money: £6.6m

So it looks like the break has done him the world of good.

And it all culminated in Monday's final, where Nadal was simply awesome.

He came out and looked like he really had a point to prove having been out of the game for so long and he was hungry to win this tournament. Djokovic was a little bit slower out the blocks and had to raise his game because Nadal was playing so well, and some of the points - highlighted by that 54-rally point - were pretty immense.

But some of the balls Nadal was getting to and the positions he was recovering from were as good as I have seen him in terms of his movement. He does not have tape on his knees any more so maybe he has learnt to manage his knee injury.

The key is getting to know your body and what you can put it through and it seems he is learning as he gets older.

But let's take nothing from Djokovic. He did not play well in the Wimbledon final. But against Nadal, he raised his game having started poorly and played his best tennis.

It became a question of who could sustain it. Djokovic will have looked over the net and just said, 'OK, this guy's a better player than me at the moment', and he was humbled.

It was more of an acceptance of where Nadal is at the moment, but I got a different feeling to how Djokovic played against Murray in the Wimbledon final. Djokovic will need to reassess. He won in Australia and remains world No. 1 but has not backed it up in the other slams and that will be a disappointment to him.

While he has a good game to beat Nadal by hitting shots early and taking that backhand on, Nadal is so good at finding a solution. It is shaping up to be one of the best rivalries the sport has ever seen.

Has Federer won the last of his grand slam titles? © AP

On Roger Federer…

At the beginning of the year I said in this very column that I thought Federer would struggle this year.

I think he has another year in him and I still see him playing some good tennis, but if you're looking at grand slams and five-set matches he's got to beat Nadal, he's got to beat Djokovic, and he's got to beat Murray. On top of this he has a few niggling injuries in his back.

In his fourth-round match against Robredo, he won just two out of 16 break points. He has lost that edge that comes with being a top player. The confidence is not there any more and players are going in to matches against Federer believing they will win, whereas before they would think they had no chance.

The fear factor has gone from his game. I think he will keep going for another year, but I personally believe Federer has won the last of his grand slam titles.

On Andy Murray…

From Murray's point of view it is a disappointment not to be able to defend his title. There are two main factors really: Firstly, he came up against Stan Wawrinka, who has improved a lot and is playing some unbelievable tennis. Also there is the hangover, as it were, from Wimbledon.

The exertion and pressure is different. He is now 'The Hunted' and that was tough for him.

In the lead up to the US Open he did not have the best results so all those things combined added up to the outcome - a quarter-final exit.

You cannot draw too many conclusions based on that one match. He has lost a tennis match, but look at how many matches he has gutsed out and won over the last year.

Mental fatigue is an issue and that comes from these new added pressures that he is under now. He is Wimbledon champion now and people want more of him. It is not just about going on court and playing - it is about the off-court duties as well that he increasingly has to deal with.

He can look a bit down in the dumps on the court, but it is not a return to the "Sour Scot" days and it was a surprise to see him go out.

Facing Wawrinka was always going to be tough, but Murray was the favourite to get through to the semi-finals. It is difficult to predict but it was a surprise considering ranking positions, the fact he was defending champion in New York off the back of winning Wimbledon.

But when you look at the wider picture it is understandable, considering what he's been through.

There is still a lot to play for this year, including the ATP Tour Finals, so the season is far from over. It is important for Murray to get some confidence heading in to the new season and, in particular, the Australian Open.

Murray has had to deal with the added pressure of being Wimbledon champion © Getty Images

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.