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It’s hard to accept it when your sports heroes are no longer the best ever. Your memories seem invalidated somehow. So now, as LeBron James tries for another NBA championship Sunday night, Michael Jordan fans are just going to have to accept the fact that…
Hah! Just kidding. No one is catching Jordan. Sports history changed Sunday, but it was in tennis, where Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to win the French Open. Nadal caught the uncatchable Roger Federer in a race through history, winning his 20th major championship. (Djokovic has won 17).
And when it was over, Nadal was asked about catching his rival Federer.
“Is not the moment, honestly, not for me — I don’t think today about the 20th, or equal(ing) Roger on his great number,’’ Nadal said. “For me today is just a Roland Garros victory, no?’’
No. It was the day that Nadal finally ran down Federer and became the greatest of all time. In fairness, I’ve thought for years that Nadal was the best ever. But now he and Federer have both won 20 majors, and Nadal is 24-16 head-to-head against Federer.
Not only that, but also Nadal beat Federer in the greatest match of all time, on Federer’s best court, Centre Court at Wimbledon. And Federer has never beaten Nadal at the French Open.
Hardly anyone has. Nadal is now 100-2 there over the years. He has won 13 French Opens on the red clay. In fact, Nadal at the French Open is the greatest, most dominant thing in all of sports.
On Sunday, he beat Djokovic so easily. For most of the match, it was embarrassing to see Djokovic, the current No. 1 player, seem so helpless and freaked out. Djokovic described Nadal’s play as “perfect.’’
Consider this, before Federer, Nadal and Djokovic arrived, the person who won the most majors in men’s tennis was Pete Sampras, who had 14 total. Nadal will win his 14th French Open this summer.
Sorry, Roger fans. This isn’t to knock your hero. Federer is pretty good, too.
His hair is never out of place, he moves flawlessly. His strokes are perfect. He could play a match underwater and not make waves. I’m pretty sure I stole that line from somewhere.
Nadal is fire. Muscular, powerful, relentless and intimidating. He storms the court while Federer floats over it.
Numbers count, but you can’t go entirely on them. In the past, players weren’t counting majors and gearing up their entire year for them. Jimmy Connors didn’t play the French Open for years. For a long time, top players didn’t bother playing the Australian Open.
Besides that, Wimbledon’s fast grass used to be much faster and the French clay used to be slower. So winning them both was more difficult than it is now, and took different styles of play. Bjorn Borg won them both three years in a row, but he retired in his mid-20s.
The truth is, Federer built up a bunch of his major numbers when the top of the game was a little off. Nadal had to build up his numbers as a young man facing Federer in his prime.
If Federer fans are still trying to hang on to the idea that he’s the GOAT, then that’s going to get harder and harder to do. He’s 39 and isn’t likely to win another major. By the time the Australian Open comes around in January, he’ll have gone three years without a major.
Meanwhile, Nadal and Djokovic are going to be the rivalry for a few more years. And who knows how many majors they’ll end up with? A prediction: Nadal gets to 25 and Djokovic 23. Federer will just be so far in the rear view mirror.
“I’m not going to be thinking all the time `Novak has this one, Roger is winning the other one,’ ” Nadal said in his post-match news conference. “You can’t be always unhappy because your neighbor (has) a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or a (has) a better phone. You have to live your personal life, no?’’
Words of advice for Fed fans.