Is Rafael Nadal the greatest ever?

Even when the match seemed in doubt, it was never in doubt.

After a disappointing clay-court season that left some doubt about whether he could win again in Paris, Rafael Nadal rolled to another French Open title, defeating Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 for his record-setting ninth championship on the red clay of Roland Garros. No man in the history of tennis has ever won the same tournament nine times, least of all one of the four majors.

An anticlimactic match ended in anticlimactic fashion, with Djokovic sailing a second serve long to hand Nadal the championship.

The title was Nadal's fifth straight in Paris, setting another record. It's Nadal's 14th Slam overall, tying him for second on the all-time list with Pete Sampras. Roger Federer and his 17 majors are now within shouting distance.

Can Nadal get to Federer? It feels inevitable now, though it's far from a certainty. While Nadal has won every French Open in the past four years, he's only taken one of the other Slams — last year's U.S. Open. His other four major titles came between 2008 and 2010. He's lost at Wimbledon in the second and first rounds over the past two years, respectively. He was upset in this year's Australian Open final. Injuries forced him to miss two majors in the past two years. At an old 28, is there enough in the tank?

Let's say there's not and Nadal ends up with 15 or 16 Slams. Where does that leave him in regards to the G.O.A.T. debate? Is it possible the dominance at Roland Garros ends up workingagainst Nadal?

I'm not buying into this theory yet, but it's interesting to consider. No matter what, Nadal's legacy as the greatest clay-court player is written. At least, he'll finish with nine French Opens. Barring injury, he'll be the overwhelming favorite to win No. 10 next year and more beyond that. When his career is over, however, and we look back on his record, will the discrepancy between his French titles and all the others look uneven?

It's not as if Nadal struggled in the other Slams. He has five — two at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, one in Melbourne. Does that relative lack of success in other Slams hurt his case? Will the gatekeepers of history look to Federer's reign at No. 1 and his more balanced victory sheet as points in his favor? "Nadal has 10 French Opens, but he's a one-trick pony," will be the inevitable refrain from the pro-Federer camp.

If so, that'd be a double-standard. Federer is thought to have persevered to win on clay and his 2009 French Open title is heralded as an achievement, not a liability. On the other hand, Nadal "only" winning two U.S. Opens and Wimbledons might be regarded as missed opportunities, fairly or not.

This is all moot if Nadal continues at his current pace and wins four more Slams, of course. And given the ever-shifting landscape of the ATP, that narrative could continue next month or have some new wrinkles.

Four weeks from today, someone will hoist a trophy on Centre Court. Maybe it's Nadal, en route to thundering his way past Federer and into the history books. Perhaps it's Djokovic, finally getting a second win at a Slam outside Melbourne and making up for Sunday's disappointment. Could it be Murray, making Great Britain's wait for another Wimbledon title slightly shorter than their last one? Don't count out Federer, getting No. 8 in England and putting some more breathing room between him and Nadal? Or is there a Juan Martin Del Potro or Stan Wawrinka lurking for a surprise win to disrupt the Big Four hegemony?

That's the beauty of the current men's game. Every Grand Slam rewrites the history books. On Sunday in Paris, Rafael Nadal added some more to his chapter.


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