Humble champion Rafael Nadal refuses to believe he has Roger Federer’s number despite continuing his grand slam dominance over the so-called greatest player ever.
Nadal’s gripping 7-5 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-2 Australian Open final triumph on Sunday night not only denied Federer a record-equalling 14th career major but also took the 22-year-old’s own tally to six.
The Spaniard has taken just 20 tournaments to accrue his half-dozen, with only Bjorn Borg, who needed 18 events, stacking up his first six slams in quicker fashion.
Nadal also joined Andre Agassi as the only other man in the 41-year open era to land majors on three different surfaces – clay, grass and hard courts – after posting his fifth consecutive victory over his demoralised Swiss rival.
Still, yesterday the modest Mallorcan was perhaps the only man in Melbourne not wondering whether he – not Federer – was the player treading the path to tennis immortality.
“Right now he has 56 titles, something like this. I have 32,” Nadal said.
“So it’s a lot different. He has 13 grand slams. I have six.
“The Masters Cup, he has won four. I have not won one. So there’s no discussion.
“I say right now Roger is the best because he has all these titles. Maybe later (I can be).
“The rankings show I was the best player in the last year. That’s the truth. But I am not the best player, ok.”
Almost embarrassed to be rated in the Swiss’s esteemed company, Nadal attributes his winning streak over Federer – including victories in the French, Wimbledon and now the Australian Open finals – to little more than good fortune on the day.
“Matches between (the numbers) one and two players in the world always must be close, no?” he said.
“The last few times I beat him – but he beat me two years ago in the Masters Cup in Shanghai 6-4 6-0, something like this – but all the matches are decided by a few things.
“I don’t know if it’s mental but I think he is a winner. He has shown the world he is one of the tougher players mentally.”
With only a US Open missing from his CV, Nadal also disputes Mats Wilander’s assertion that he is closer to completing the career grand slam before Federer, who must somehow find a way to end the Spaniard’s utterly dominant four-year reign in Paris.
“Roger played the last three years in the final at Roland Garros and the semi-finals in 2005, so for sure he’s going to be one of the big favourites to win that,” Nadal said, surely bluffing now.
“For sure it’s easier to win one title like Roland Garros for Roger than me winning the grand slam. That’s no competition.”
Nadal said although reigning in New York was now a major season goal, he said it would be far more difficult than winning on the Australian Open hard courts.
“The conditions are a little bit worse for my game than here in Australia,” he said.
“Here, the ball is jumping a little bit more. The US Open ball is more flat. Here, you can play with a little bit more topspin.”
Admitting to have been “dizzy” with excitement after becoming the first Spaniard to win the Open, Nadal said he owed Federer a lot for always improving his already brilliant game.
“That’s a good model for us and I try to imitate that,” he said. “You have to be humble to try to continue to improve.”
In a frightening prospect for his challengers, Nadal believed he didn’t normally hit his straps until about three months into a new season and that he also planned to significantly improve his serve, backhand, volley and all-round aggression.
“If you lose your illusion to improve, you are over, no? If one day I lose the illusion to improve, I’m going to go back home and have a boat and fish,” he said.
That may be some time away, though, judging by the fascinating response Nadal provided when asked what made him tick.
“I love to win,” he said.
“I love the competition. Not only in tennis, I love the competition in all aspects of life.
“When I compete, I love to be there and fight for win. Maybe I love more the fight to win, than (to) win
I believe he's capable of say in RG that Fed is the fav for the title
The last sentence is really great