Is Nadal really better than Federer now? At least Nadal believes so.

Is Nadal really better than Federer now? Rafa believes he is, but Roger, he thought, was a more complete player until a few years back. Nadal, much to our surprise and agreement, equates being better with being a complete, or an all-court, player. What else can it be? He knows that he, Djokovic, and at least 50 others are better than Roger from the baseline at this point.

Does Nadal believe he is better than Federer now?

Based on his recent statement, it may appear that Nadal actually believes he is better than Federer now.

In his recent interview with L’Equipe newspaper, Nadal said, “Before, for sure, Roger was a more complete player than me, on all surfaces. Things have moved on. It’s obviously a unique player, who has a very special way of playing and understanding tennis. Next, between the two of us, to define who is the strongest, I think it was often about the form of the moment. If I feel very good and he is just normal, I am better than him, but if not, he is the best. It would be fair enough to say that there is not much difference between us today. Who was the best? If I want to be honest, I have to say I don’t know.”

Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay
Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay

Is Nadal really as complete a player as Federer?

At the end of 2014, Nadal enjoyed a 23-9 head-to-head advantage against Roger. Nadal manhandled the Maestro on all surfaces until 2014, and Roger was helpless against Nadal’s – zillion revolutions per second – top spin. Federer was dominated by Nadal until 2014 and yet, Rafa and the world believed, was a more complete player.

Federer's Backhand against Nadal in 2017
Federer’s retooled backhand against Nadal

Federer versus Nadal, post 2014.

Federer and Nadal faced off 7 times since 2015 and Federer won them all – except the one on the clay in 2019. Roger’s retooled and aggressive backhand, neutralized Nadal’s forehand spin, and helped get over the mental block against Nadal. Federer hasn’t looked back since then, and now owns Rafa on all surfaces except the clay.

Rafa Nadal too has improved considerably since 2017

Rafa too has improved considerably since the early 2017, and his 2019 was stellar by all standards. Federer, however, at his best is at another level and does magic with the racket.

Isn’t it strange that Rafa thought himself less than Roger with a 23-9 winning record? Now, however, with a 1-7 losing record since 2015, Rafa, in an obvious attempt to save his legacy, feels he is better than the Maestro!

Nadal will forever be the king of clay and, immaterial of how many slams he wins, he will never be the most complete tennis player. Was Pete Sampras the most complete player while leading the slam count? We at 138mph do not think so. Not with that pitiful excuse of a backhand. Like Nadal, however; Sampras knew how to use his – forehand and serve – strengths to win matches and tournaments.

Rafa’s legacy as the king of clay is safe, and he needs to overtake Roger’s slam count to cement his legacy as the greatest competitor. Why take on the added pressure of being the most complete player? Doesn’t Nadal have more slams to win?

Roger Federer
Balance is the key to Roger Federer’s completeness, perfection, and longevity.

Who then is the most complete tennis player ever?

Roger is the best all-court and therefore most complete tennis player to watch. He is also the most graceful and perfect tennis player ever. No one in the Open era comes close to the completeness, perfection, and grace of Roger Federer on the court. He is good from the baseline, center court, and the net. His serves, forehand, backhand, volleys, shot-making, tactical genius, balance, movement, and aggression make for scintillating tennis. Rafa is a fighter, problem-solver, a champion, and the king of clay. And, Djokovic, perhaps, is the best baseline retriever and grinder on all surfaces except the clay. But he must overtake Rafa to stake his claim to even that moniker.  

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