June 10, 2014 by Parveer Mann
As Rafael Nadal continued his assault on tennis’ history books this event, he made sure to cross off two significant milestones with his latest French Open victory. First, his 14th Grand Slam singles titles ties Pete Sampras for second most in the Open era and puts him three behind Federer’s mark. For those interested, Federer won his 14th and 15th slams in his age 27/28 year and Nadal at 28 will get two more chances to do the same.
However, I think the more interesting mark is his ninth title at Roland Garros tying Martina Navratilova’s Open era record of nine Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon for the most wins at any slam (male or female). With all due respect to Margaret Court’s insane record at the Australian Open (post and pre-Open era), these two players have defined excellence at their respective events and it begs the question: Who was more impressive in achieving their nine titles at the French and Wimbledon, respectively?
For comparison’s sake, I’ll only focus on Navratilova’s Wimbledon history from her first title in 1978 until her ninth and last title in 1990. She actually played Wimbledon for 22 consecutive years and was a significant factor for all those years including being a finalist in 1994 (her last as a full-time player). The criteria I’ll use for this fun exercise is: overall success, percentage of sets won, sets lost in the final, and number of wins over Top-5 opponents during the stretch.
Tale of the tape
|Player||W||F||SF||QF||Rounds 1-4||Overall Record|
|Rafael Nadal (2005-2014)||9||1||66-1|
|Martina Navratilova (1978-1990)||9||2||2||84-4|
Most are aware that Nadal’s lone loss at the French came to the good but not great Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 but Navratilova’s four losses are all noteworthy. Each time she lost at Wimbledon during this stretch, it came at the hand of a multiple time Grand Slam champion (Evert, Mandlikova and Graf x2).
Despite Navratilova’s good losses, the fact Nadal won his nine in 10 years overcomes his poor loss to Soderling.
|Player||Percentage of Sets Won (Overall)||Percentage of Sets Won (Title years)||Number of Titles without dropping a set|
|Rafael Nadal||198/218 = 90.8%||188/205 = 91.7%||2|
|Martina Navratilova||173/193 = 89.6%||125/132 = 94.7%||4|
Quite surprisingly, both Nadal and Navratilova lost 20 sets over their respective runs of 10 and 13 years. This stat is a little deceiving as it does not account for the format differences (best of three vs. best of five) and the impact it has on average match length across both tours. Even with the uncertainty, I feel both figures are impressive and the sheer number of titles without dropping a set between the two speaks to their dominance
|Player||Record in Finals||Sets lost in Finals|
|Rafael Nadal||9-0||6 (or 0.66/avg each final)|
|Martina Navratilova||9-2||7 (or 0.64/avg each final)|
Similar to Pete Sampras’ 7-0 mark in Wimbledon finals, Rafa has made the most of his finals opportunities in Paris. The fact he’s only lost six sets in those finals and has never been pushed to five sets underlies his ability to close out opponents decisively in critical moments.
For Navratilova, her two finals losses came to Graf later in her career and after she won her first eight Wimbledon finals. At that point, Graf had seized all-court supremacy and was firmly the best player in the world. We have yet to see Nadal clearly lose that distinction either on clay or across other surfaces after his ascendance in 2008.
Against the best
|Player||Top-5 wins at Slam (Overall)||Notes|
|Rafael Nadal (French Open)||14||– 5-0 vs. Federer (including four finals)|
|Martina Navratilova (Wimbledon)||16||– 7-1 vs. Evert
– 1-2 vs. Graf
Both have had many notable Top-5 wins during their runs but the distinction goes to Nadal who has yet to lose to one of the world’s best in Paris. This record includes multiple victories over Federer, Ferrer and Djokovic, who are accomplished clay courters in their own right.
Also, it is interesting to see how decisive Navratilova beat Evert at Wimbledon (including five finals) when their career rivalry was so close (43-37 for Navratilova). This included a stretch of five straight finals victories over Evert at SW19.
Overall, the records and raw numbers are fairly close between the two. Martina has been able win more titles without dropping a set and her rate of set conversion is higher during her title years. However, Nadal’s unblemished finals record and performance against the other elite players has far outpaced Navratilova’s comparable marks.
I feel it’ll take one more Nadal title over the next three years to unequivocally make his record the more impressive one but for now, he has the slight edge over Martina’s incredible Wimbledon accomplishments.
Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts and how you would pick the more impressive Grand Slam run?