Rafael Nadal was stunningly upset in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 by Belgian Steve Darcis, who entered the match ranked No. 135 in the world. It was Nadal’s first time losing in the first round of a grand slam.
Prior to Monday, Nadal was enjoying a great year. The Spaniard returned to action in February after a seven-month absence because of a knee injury. He reached the finals of all nine tournament he played, won seven of them, and entered Wimbledon 43-2 on the year. His strong play this year — highlighted by winning the French Open earlier in the month — had ESPN analyst John McEnroe singing the Spaniard’s praises.
In fact, during a roundtable for ESPN prior to the match, McEnroe even said he was leaning towards Nadal as the greatest player ever.
“This guy is to me, I think you can make an argument right here and now, the greatest player that ever lived,” McEnroe said of Nadal. “If you look at [Rafael Nadal's] record against [Andy] Murray, [Roger] Federer, and [Novak] Djokovic, it’s way better than that.
“He won the Olympics. He’s got Davis Cups — which Roger doesn’t have. I have always said Roger Federer to me was the greatest player that ever lived — certainly the most beautiful player. But I’m going to tell you right here and now there’s a definite argument, I’m starting to lean toward Rafa.”
Despite saying he now leans towards calling Nadal the greatest player ever, McEnroe only gave Nadal the third or fourth-best chance of winning Wimbledon.
To show how much conviction McEnroe had for his bold statement, he even stuck to his declaration after Nadal lost in the first round.
“I’m as shocked as anyone. I never ever expected Steve Darcis to pull off the upset. I’m standing by my greatest ever — everybody has to lose sometime,” said McEnroe.
Nadal is no doubt one of the greatest players ever. He has won 12 grand slams, including a record eight French Open titles, and he is the greatest clay court player of all time. His success is not even limited to clay; Nadal has won Wimbledon twice and each of the hard court grand slams once. He has helped Spain win four Davis Cups, he won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Games, and he has won 57 career titles.
As for Nadal’s head-to-head records against the other top players in the sport, McEnroe’s overall point is accurate, but it must be acknowledged that the numbers are skewed because Nadal is so dominant on clay.
Nadal leads Federer 20-10. He’s 13-2 against Fed on clay; 6-6 on hard courts (Fed is 4-0 indoors); and 1-2 against Federer on grass. This head-to-head number would be closer to even if Nadal made the finals of more hard court and grass events where Roger would have an advantage.
Nadal leads Djokovic 20-15 head-to-head. Nadal leads 2-1 on grass, 12-3 on clay, and Djokovic leads 11-5 on hard courts. Djokovic actually beat Nadal three straight times in grand slam finals, won seven matches in a row against him, and is the only player to ever beat Nadal twice in a row on clay.
I won’t even bother mentioning Murray because, until recently, he wasn’t on the level of the other three.
Nadal has the head-to-head edge on Federer, but Roger is more accomplished. The Swiss sensation has won a record 17 grand slams. He has been in the top three in the world for 10 years. He has reached 24 grand slam finals, and he made 18 of 19 grand slam finals between 2005 and 2010. He has been the No. 1 player in the world for a record 302 weeks. That’s nearly six years.
Nadal is great. He may surpass some of Federer’s career marks. But, for now, Federer is still the greatest ever.
I think all the freak books have messed with McEnroe’s brain too much.