History at Australian Open: Rafael Nadal’s No. 21 arrives in ’22

Rafael Nadal finally got to the magic number of 21, breaking the tie with his great contemporaries Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

He took the scenic route, but Rafael Nadal finally got to the magic number of 21, breaking the tie with his great contemporaries Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Their progress in this Grand Slam race over almost two decades has hooked tennis fans and prompted various arguments in the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) debate.

Here’s a look at the various stages in this incredible competition across time:

Federer era (2003-2007)

The Swiss was supreme during this period. He won at least one Grand Slam title each year, and on three occasions (2004, 2006 and 2007) three of the four. In fact, in 2006 and 2007, it was only losses to Nadal in the French Open finals that prevented Federer from completing the Calendar Grand Slam. He clinched 12 of his 20 titles during this period (3 Australian Opens, 5 Wimbledon crowns, 4 US Opens)

Bipolar rivalry (2008-2010)

Nadal broke on to the scene in 2005, winning Roland Garros in his first attempt. He won it four times in a row, but was often considered only a clay-court beast till he beat Federer in a memorable Wimbledon final in 2008. The two won 10 out of the 12 Grand Slam titles in the three-year period. The Swiss won four and the Spaniard six of those.

Three-way contest (2011-2018)

A few more contenders entered the fray (Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic), this period saw Federer, Nadal and Djokovic monopolizing most of the big titles among them. The Serb’s first Grand Slam title was the 2008 Australian Open, but it was the 2011 season when he turned into his dominant self, winning three of the four crowns. All three of them took turns to be the top dog. Of the 32 Grand Slams played, 25 were taken by the Three Musketeers. Nadal won eight of those, but it was Djokovic who was the most prolific (13 Grand Slam titles). As far as Federer is concerned, when he was considered past his best having not won a big one for four-and-a-half years, he came back to win three of five, starting from the 2017 Australian Open.

Djokovic era (2019- )

It is a period during which Federer, due to his advancing years and age, was not much of a factor at the Majors. In fact, apart from the great 2019 Wimbledon final, where he held two match points before succumbing to Djokovic, the Swiss never got close. The Serb won six of the Grand Slam titles during this period, while Nadal kept chipping away being the great survivor he is. He has always been the biggest contender at Roland Garros, but managed to make his presence felt on hard courts too.

Now, with the French Open next and a question mark on Djokovic’s participation in big events due to his Covid vaccination status, Nadal may have an opportunity to put some daylight between him and the chasing pack, even though there are a host of young challengers on the prowl.

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