Nadal is not yet number one in the world but might soon be. He has been more consistent this season and with two grand slams under his belt already, will surely end the season on top of the rankings. This would be tangible acknowledgment of his superiority and just reward for a player who has spent the most consecutive weeks at number two in the rankings.
However, some will say that Nadal is already top of the tree. His convincing win over Federer in the French open final was one thing, but beating the Swiss legend on his favourite surface is another. Federer won the previous five Wimbledon titles and has looked at times unbeatable on grass. Nadal beat him on his terms and he will return next year as the challenger. Federer is four years older and knows that the younger man has more time at the top ahead of him.
The pair have contested six grand slam finals already, the most by any two players in the history of the game. They both coasted to the Wimbledon final, suggesting the gulf between themselves and the rest of the field, bridged by Novak Djokovic at the Australian open, is wide as ever on grass. There will be more Wimbeldon finals to come.
Nadal will struggle to emulate Federer’s dominance of the sport, which has seen him lift 12 grand slam trophies at three of the four major venues. Nadal now has five to his name but I suspect his reaching of double figures depends largely on how long his unbeaten reign at Roland Garros continues. He has improved his game away from clay immeasurably, developing a heavy serve that prospered at Wimbledon and adjusting his baseline hitting for all surfaces, but Federer remains the man to beat at the hard court grand slams.
Five US open appearances have seen Nadal go no further than the quarter finals. Federer’s semi final defeat to world number three Djokovic in Melbourne was the big surprise of the tournament, not Nadal’s defeat at the same stage to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, a top thirty player. Nadal is playing the best tennis of his life but needs to sustain the same level for four years as Federer has done to become the best all-round player.
Federer might be slightly past his best, but he is not past his sell by date. He is perhaps the most talented tennis player of all time and has enough skill to counteract the subtle reduction in his physical capabilities. Now is the time to back him to win the US open, as Nadal is betting flavour of the month. Don’t dismiss Roger’s chances of breaking Pete Sampras’ Wimbledon haul of seven either!