Sunday 25 February 2018

Off the Ball: Only injury can stop Nadal breaking record

Rafa Nadal takes a bite out of his US Open trophy after baring his teeth against Novak Djokovic in Monday night's final
Rafa Nadal takes a bite out of his US Open trophy after baring his teeth against Novak Djokovic in Monday night's final

Donny Mahoney

"No. He runs screaming when the topic is brought up!" So said Jon Weirteim of 'Sports Illustrated' when I asked him if Rafa Nadal ever talks about overtaking the Major hauls of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in Monday night's US Open final to make it Grand Slam title No 13. Sampras finished up with 14. Federer is on 17. Suddenly the possibility of Nadal retiring with more Majors than any player in the history of the game is very real. He has crept up on us in some ways.

His career has never had a Tiger Woods-esque air of destiny about it. Initially, the genius of Roger loomed too large. The Swiss was still setting the target. Then Rafa's own trajectory was interrupted by injury. But at 27 years old, he has time on his side. Continued dominance at the French Open alone for the next five or six years puts him in pole position.

He is unbeaten on hard courts this year. Throw in his 21-10 winning record over Federer, and it will be difficult to argue against his status as the game's greatest. Suddenly his career has taken on this added dimension.

The win against Djokovic on Monday was sensational. His celebration afterwards was telling. Despite his reticence, Rafa is on a mission. Only injury can stop him now.

JM

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