"He dies for every point": legends laud Nadal
No one understands the Spaniard's place in tennis history better than his fellow Grand Slam winners. Here are their takes on the King of Clay.
It’s easy to run out of superlatives about Rafael Nadal.
So who better to describe his unique abilities than other Grand Slam winners?
Here are the views of 15 legends of the game, with 86 Grand Slam crowns between them, including 14 titles at Roland-Garros.
“To play Rafa on clay in the French Open in the final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis. He's the best player ever on clay.”
- STAN WAWRINKA, winner of three Grand Slams, including Roland-Garros 2015
“Tennis waited quite some time for a kid like this. Nadal dies for every point. I admire the extra excitement he brings to the game. He is the most passionate player. He's willing to leave his blood out there. I love that. In this game we need someone like him to be the world No.1. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic sure have the talent, and Rafa has that too, but he brings a whole lot more emotions together with that.”
- JIMMY CONNORS, winner of eight Grand Slam titles
“I understand that people are questioning his game now and where he’s going. But he’s somebody that understands what he needs to do when he’s feeling down to come back and fight to be the best. So I don’t think it’s a big deal. He’s 29, still has years in front of him and I’m sure he’s going to bounce back.”
- NOVAK DJOKOVIC – winner of 12 Grand Slams, including Roland-Garros 2016 - after beating Nadal in Paris in 2015
“Nadal showed that there is a way to play this sport that no one had tried yet. I'd put Nadal number one, Federer number two. It's just remarkable to me what he has done, and he has done it all during Federer's prime. He’s had to deal with Federer, Djokovic and Murray in the golden age of tennis. He has done what he has done and he's not done yet. To win the French Open once is a herculean performance - he's trying to win it for a 10th time. It's just remarkable. He persevered through so much adversity, with people writing him off. I didn’t believe that with the amount of physicality he’s put into his career, he’d ever get his game back to that level. He certainly proved me wrong.”
- ANDRE AGASSI, winner of eight Grand Slam titles, including Roland-Garros 1999
“I don’t remember anyone as intimidating since Boris Becker in 1985.”
- JOHN McENROE, winner of seven Grand Slam titles
“I lost to him during an exhibition. He was 14 years-old and I was 35, but I took heart thinking that I had lost to a future Roland-Garros champion.”
- PAT CASH, Wimbledon winner 1987
“One of Nadal’s strengths is that he’s so humble, that he’s surprised at what he has achieved, and that he has never bought into his own greatness. He’s always felt as though he has to earn everything, on a match-to-match, and point-to-point, basis. That’s one of the marks of his genius, that he’s convinced himself that he can’t rest on his laurels. He’s only ever lost one best-of-five-set match on red clay. And that’s because he makes things so physical. It’s already a big enough challenge to beat Nadal over three sets on clay, but trying to do it over five sets is the biggest challenge in the history of men’s tennis.”
- JIM COURIER, winner of four Grand Slams including Roland-Garros 1991 and 1992
"His movement is incredible. He's able to adjust his shots on the run. I've never seen anything like it."
- PETE SAMPRAS, winner of 14 Grand Slam titles
“Rafa could potentially win up to 15 times. Two years ago, nobody really thought he would ever win a Grand Slam tournament again, especially Roland-Garros. I thought it would be very hard for him to come back again. He’s proving I was wrong. I think we need to thank him, because he has been a role model. He's not only an excellent tennis player. He is a wonderful person. He is entirely dedicated to his discipline. You can predict three or four more titles, at least. And he has a chance to become No.1 again, to win, why not? Two or three more years. Rafa’s mentality is that he loves so much the challenge of the impossible that everything is achievable for him. In his mind, there is no impossible. It's amazing for us that we have been there to see this. I don’t think we can ever see another guy like this. When this can happen again?”
- GUSTAVO KUERTEN, Roland-Garros winner in 1997, 2000 and 2001
“I'd always thought I could win the French Open. My problem, of course, was Rafa. The guy is unbelievable on clay. Some people don't want to believe it, but unfortunately that's the truth. Rafa shattered my dreams many times on clay. He's got shots that no other one has. When you have that, you are unique and special. Plus he's got the grit. He's got the mental and physical ability to sustain a super-high level of play for years and for hours and for weeks. He's come back from many injuries, time and time again. He made it seem easy, and it's not. I think he's been tremendous for the game. I have a lot of respect for him on many levels. I think he made me a better player. For me, the ultimate challenge is always to play against him.”
- ROGER FEDERER, winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, including Roland-Garros 2009
“To stop Rafa you really need two people on the other side of the net.”
- GORAN IVANISEVIC, winner of Wimbledon 2001
“The greatest fighter I have faced? Rafael Nadal, definitely. He’s one of my favourite players to watch. Incredible competitor.”
- LLEYTON HEWITT, winner of two Grand Slam titles
“Playing Nadal at the French Open is incredibly tiring, as you know he is not going to give you very much at all. You’re probably going to have to win most of the points yourself, and you’re going to have to do that for five sets. What I like best about him, though, is that he has always been so humble, and that is great to see.”
- BJORN BORG, winner of 11 Grand Slams, including Roland-Garros 1974-75 and 1978-81
“Playing Nadal on clay would be like going to the dentist to have root canal treatment.”
- STAN SMITH, winner of two Grand Slam titles
"To win on the clay courts and then on grass is an amazing feat, but Rafa is also one of the very best on hard courts when he's fit, and it shows that he is a true all-rounder. He is a natural counter-puncher with incredible foot speed and relentless ground-strokes. When you play Nadal, you cannot afford to let your concentration slip for a moment. No one can ever discount him. You only have to give him a sniff of blood and the predator in him comes out.”
- BORIS BECKER, winner of six Grand Slam titles
AGASSI: “If it wasn’t for one freak of nature from Majorca…”
FEDERER: “…I could have won the French Open five times.”