This is a far more complicated affair than trying to win one golf tournament on bent grass and another on Bermuda. Tennis surfaces dictate wild stylistic swings.
John McEnroe and Pete Sampras never won the French; Bjorn Borg never won New York; Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier never won Wimbledon.
Before Nadal stuffed the French Open into his pocket with five victories in six years, eight of the previous nine French men’s champions never won another Slam and were rarely a factor. If you actually know that Gaston Gaudio and Albert Costa were on that champions list, then you’re either Argentinian or Spanish, or you’re Bud Collins.
Nadal was powerful and visionary enough to reach beyond the red dirt. He beat Federer at the ’08 Wimbledon final (grass) and in the ’09 Australian (hard court).
Nadal’s knee betrayed him in ’09. He missed Wimbledon entirely. Once he got healthy he seemed bent on re-establishing truth.
In his three Slam victories this year he has lost only one set in the finals, and that was in a tiebreaker to Novak Djokovic on Monday.
Ten years ago, Djokovic might have been No. 1. But as defeat loomed, he felt free to express his amazement over Nadal. Stripped of alternatives, he kept trying drop shots when Nadal was on the baseline, and when Nadal finally failed to return one for a winner, Djokovic laughed and raised his arms in triumph.
Mostly he just shook his head wistfully, appreciatively, as if he were losing a piano recital to Mozart.
New York gave Nadal six consecutive victories in Slam finals, and he is 11-2 overall.
But why does Nadal occupy higher ground than other champions in other sports? Why should we rank him above Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps?