By Randy Walker
The conclusion of the 2013 U.S. Open has caused for many tennis fans to take stock on its historical consequences. After the final two days of the tournament, many tennis observers began to suggest that the men’s and women’s singles champions, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, may be on their way to becoming the greatest tennis players of all time. The win for Nadal moved him into third-place alone with 13 major singles titles, one behind Pete Sampras and four behind Roger Federer. The win for Williams was her 17th major singles title, one behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in fourth place all time and seven behind all-time leader Margaret Court.
Steve Flink, the author of the book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME (available here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379538310&sr=8-1&keywords=Greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time) who just finished covering the US Open for a 40th time, is a leading authority in “greatest of all time” debates in tennis. In his book, in addition to rating the greatest tennis matches of all time, he rates the greatest players of all time (Federer for men, Steffi Graf for women are rated No. 1) and the greatest individual strokes of all time. The significance of the US Open victories for Nadal and Williams was not lost on Flink.
“Winning a second U.S. Open is very significant for Rafa,” wrote Flink in an email to me after the US Open. “Not only does he move within one major of a tie with Pete Sampras for second place on the all-time list for singles majors, but it means the Australian Open is the only Grand Slam event he has not won at least twice. This raises his stock considerably. I still place him behind Federer, Sampras and Laver among the best of all modern players, but if he can move past Sampras and close in on Roger, everything changes. He will surely win at least one more French Open and he is bound to win again at the Australian Open. If his knees hold up on the grass, he can definitely win Wimbledon again, too. People forget too easily that between 2006 and 2011 — he missed the event in 2009 — Rafa won it twice and made it to three finals.”
“The bottom line is he is only 27 and has probably three big years ahead of him,” Flink continued. “Winning two more majors is almost certain for Nadal and he has a serious chance to catch Federer as well. If he does that, he would deserve to be considered the greatest ever since he has clear head-to-head leads over all of his main rivals including Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, plus a 21-10 record versus Roger.”
To boot for Nadal is the fact that he has won an Olympic gold medal in singles and helped Spain win the Davis Cup four times. Federer won Olympic gold in doubles and silver in singles and has yet to win a Davis Cup. Sampras helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup twice and only competed once in the Olympics, not medaling, and most notably failing to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, a feat both Nadal and Federer have achieved.
As for the women, Flink said the Serena’s 17th major singles win was “an important step” but she will have her work cut out for her to surpass Graf in his eye as the greatest of all time. While Court has more major singles titles than any other player (24), he discounts some of these due to many of her 11 Australian singles titles coming against weak fields.
“Serena took an important step by winning her 17th major because now she needs only two more to get past Chrissie and Martina and three more to surpass Helen Wills Moody,” Flink wrote via email. “That would leave only Court (24) and Graf (22) ahead of her. Court’s record is misleading and I don’t consider her in the running for the greatest ever, but Graf is another story. Serena’s weakness is that this will be only the third year in her career that she will finish at No. 1 in the world. Evert was No. 1 for 7 years, Navratilova for 7, Graf for 8. They were all far more consistent than Serena, so Serena needs to pile up the majors to make up for that deficiency. Right now, I would still stick with my top five from the GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME book: Graf, Navratilova, Evert, Wills Moody, and Court. But Serena is closing in on the top five. If she surpasses Graf for majors, it would be worth another look. I fully expect that she will earn top five status by the end of her career, and some will say she is No. 1. To me, she could only be No. 1 if she surpassed Graf.”