How Rafael Nadal's 22nd Grand Slam Triumph in Paris Has Made Him the Favourite to Become the GOAT

© AFP 2022 / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULATSpain's Rafael Nadal poses with The Musketeers' Cup as he celebrates after victory over Norway's Casper Ruud during their men's singles final match on day fifteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris on June 5, 2022
Spain's Rafael Nadal poses with The Musketeers' Cup as he celebrates after victory over Norway's Casper Ruud during their men's singles final match on day fifteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris on June 5, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.06.2022
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Rafael Nadal lifted his 22nd Grand Slam and 14th Roland Garros title, having destroyed Casper Ruud of Norway 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the final in Paris on Sunday. Since his extraordinary feat, several experts have weighed on the greatest of all-time (GOAT) debate in tennis, and many believe he's on course to be crowned the best ever.
When Rafael Nadal first burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2005, several pundits believed that chances of the Majorcan having a long career were grim because his high-intensity and physical style of play wasn't sustainable.
Besides, they argued that his knees and body would give up at some point in time.
But 18 years later, the 36-year-old has left almost all of them perplexed with his remarkable success in the sport. Nadal currently stands alone as the player with the highest number of Majors (22).
Fortune seems to have favoured Nadal in 2022 as it has turned out to be an unforgettable year for the Majorcan. After all, he had missed the previous six months of last year due to injury and nobody was expecting him to win his 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
But as fate may have it, Novak Djokovic's anti-vaccination stand came as a blessing in disguise for Nadal.
The Serbian who had been the dominant force Down Under for more than a decade was eventually deported, denying him the chance to defend his Australian Open title.
Nadal, meanwhile, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, becoming the first to clinch 21 Grand Slams in men's tennis.
With his win at Melbourne Park, Nadal joined Djokovic as the only other tennis star to capture all four Grand Slams at least twice in their careers.
And it was the first time when it looked like Nadal's luck was playing its part in opening the gap between him, Djokovic, and Roger Federer in the ongoing debate over who was the greatest.
Both Federer and Djokovic are currently stuck at 20 Slams each.
On the other hand, Nadal's latest Roland Garros victory appears to have given him the edge over his great contemporaries, as per legends like Chris Evert and Mats Wilander.
According to them, the way Nadal is going at the moment, he's set to retire from tennis as the greatest player of all time and there wouldn't be any dispute about it.
"I thought two years ago that it would be Novak [who would win most Grand Slam titles], he was No. 1 in the world, Rafa was starting to only win the French Open and we weren’t sure if he could win on the hard courts as well," former women's No.1 and a winner of 18 Grand Slams, Evert told Eurosport.
"But now he’s two ahead, his body seems to be holding up pretty well. I think this title is the most meaningful ever, going through adversity. Four or five weeks ago, did we even think he was going to play the French Open? But he comes back, he goes through a lot of tense matches," she added.
Three-time Roland Garros champion Wilander, however, was franker in his assessment of Nadal's place in the GOAT discourse, stating the 36-year-old was head and shoulders above Federer and Djokovic right now.
"Let's now not just focus on 14 [French Open titles], but 22 [Grand Slam singles titles]. He is ahead of Roger and Novak now. Maybe this could be the main reason why he will be the greatest player of all time," the Swedish icon said.
However, India's Vishal Uppal, who represented the South Asian nation in the Davis Cup, had a different take on the matter, saying that the discussion about who was the greatest will only get over when all the members of the holy trinity - Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic would have hung their boots.
While he acknowledged that Nadal had the upper hand, the debate was yet to be settled.
"This debate will perhaps continue till all the Big 3 retire. Roger seems to be out of the Grand Slam race but what he has done for tennis cannot be overlooked. Djokovic seems good for a few more years. Nadal is in the lead, but this debate is far from settled," Uppal told Sputnik.
But Uppal was certain that Nadal's record of 14 French Open titles would never be broken.
"Winning 14 Grand Slams on the same surface will never be breached in our lifetime," he concluded.
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