The momentousness of Rafael Nadal’s 1,000th match that was played on Sunday, lies delicately straddled between his being bagelled by Philipp Kohlschreiber and his posting a remarkable turnaround to win the match thereafter.
On the face of it, it’s quite thought-provoking as to how he changed the course of the match that had had him staring at the brink of an unconventional infamy. There’s also a certain insightfulness about the result. That Nadal, for most part of his career, has had to play just as forcefully to counter the odds stacked against him, including his reaching the milestone number of 1,000 matches.
From 2002-to-present: The evolution of the Rafael Nadal phenomenon
“[A] thousand matches [are] a lot of matches. Obviously, [it’s] good news because [it] says I am having a long career. During a lot of years, I heard that I’m going to have a short career, so it’s something important for me,” the 30-year-old said after his win over the German. And, Nadal couldn’t have rounded off the significance of the win – and of the match – on his career any better.
It took Nadal the better part of a decade to be the player he is now. In a way, his evolution was influenced by the initial perceptions formed around him. The 15-year-old Nadal drew attention towards him aplenty, when he won his first match on the ATP Tour beating Paraguay’s Ramon Delgado in the first round of the (now defunct) Mallorca Open back in 2002. However, he was also marginalised because of the inherent ease with which he played on clay that left him with the deprecating tag of being just a clay-courter.
His campaign to shake off this unwelcoming description not only had him complete the Grand Slam quartet, but also put him second on the list of most Major wins, behind only Roger Federer and on level with Pete Sampras. However, building this all-round game left his physique bruised and battered by injuries, which made him miss several important tournaments on the way.
Nadal’s all-round winning stats
Despite winning two Wimbledon titles, the last few years have had Nadal’s performance veer off-course on grass. These disarrayed results suggest a decline on the surface, however, the overall statistics differ pointedly.
Of the 822 matches he has won until now, 91.48% of these wins have unsurprisingly come on clay. However, Nadal’s tally of match wins on hard courts lags behind grass, with him winning 77.33% of his matches on grass as compared to 75.86% on hard courts. In numeric terms, this converts to him winning 399 of the 526 matches he has played on hard courts to winning 58 of the 75 matches he has played on grass.
This unexpected discrepancy fans itself out when considered from the breakdown of the number of finals the former World No 1 has contested, and won, so far.
Forty-nine of Nadal’s 69 titles have come on clay, with him losing just eight finals on the surface. Likewise, even as he has won 16 titles in 39 finals played on hard courts which totals to about 12%, the percentage total for his title wins on grass is placed at a relatively higher 19%, with four titles in seven finals played.
These data compilations also make a resourceful presentation for the 14-time Grand Slam champion to be acknowledged as one of the sport’s best. Augmenting this is the fact that in playing his 1,000th match, Nadal has entered an exclusive group of players as only its 11th entrant.
Led by the fabled Jimmy Connors (with 1,535 matches), eight among these 11 have long seen tennis’ sunset, even as Roger Federer and David Ferrer with 1,340 wins and 1,034 wins respectively, are the only ones still finding their way around the sport’s totem pole. But, Nadal has done what neither Federer not Ferrer could do in all their time – he has moved to the top of this niche circle, with a winning percentage of 82.19%, thereby relegating Connors and Federer to the second and third place with 81.82% and 81.64% respectively.
And, in doing so, Nadal has also shifted the ongoing two-way tussle to determine tennis’ Greatest of All Time between Serena Williams and Federer to include him as well. He may not, yet, have a record number of Grand Slams to back his case, but he does have a lifetime of numerical superiority to prove his point.