There’s a debate that has smothered men’s tennis for the latter half of 2017 and will no doubt continue to rage until the bitter end and beyond… Has Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer enjoyed the better year?
Both have been magnificent in their own right, sharing all four Grand Slams between them, and they sit so comfortably at the top of the ATP rankings that they each have double the points of the next nearest currently active challenger. They have truly dominated.
But after beating Hyeon Chung 7-5 6-3 on Wednesday afternoon at the Paris Masters, Nadal ensured it was he who would, in the history books at least, go down as the best player of this fabulously unpredictable season.
Federer has a strong claim to challenge the notion that the 31-year-old has indeed been the strongest player in the world this year – his four wins without reply against Nadal in 2017 would suggest otherwise – and once the season is over, we can draw our own conclusions about who really was top dog.
Most year-end world No. 1s
6 – Sampras
5 – Connors
5 – Federer
4 – McEnroe
4 – Lendl
4 – Djokovic
4 – Nadal
Nadal 2017 titles
Despite the 36-year-old Wimbledon winner’s best efforts, though, only Nadal can truly have a claim to be the deserving year-end world No. 1.
That’s not to say it couldn’t have been different, but Federer’s decision to skip the entire clay-court season and the Paris Masters while also finding himself forced out of Cincinnati and suffering with the same back problem throughout the US Open, ultimately cost him.
And it was that decision to skip the build-up to Roland Garros that truly undermines his credentials for a legitimate season-ending world No. 1 bid.
Nadal may have lost more than twice as many matches, won fewer titles (although he could, in theory, change that still) and failed to record a victory over the world No. 2 in 2017, but he was there. He was always there.
That’s no dig at Federer, it’s a miraculous effort to be performing anywhere near the level he’s been at in 2017 given his age, but the outstanding player of the year should be the one who has been there and done it on every stage, and it’s hard to formulate an argument for the Swiss in that regard.
Would his 100% record against Nadal in 2017 been intact had he turned up to the clay-court season? No.
Would he still have half the number of losses of Nadal had he done so? Probably not.
Would he be world No. 1 had he played the clay and Paris Masters? Almost certainly.
Nadal’s endurance throughout the year – not to mention his spectacular ability to reach three of the four Grand Slam finals – deserves a huge amount of credit, not least because of his injury troubles in recent years.
To reiterate, this is no slight on Federer, he deserves infinite amounts of praise for what has been a truly remarkable season, and he has himself agreed that Nadal is a more than deserving world No. 1 in 2017.
‘Ever since Rafa won the US Open, I knew it was going to be very, very difficult,’ he told The Wall Street Journal.
‘I wish I could have chased [No. 1] more — my only regret is that I couldn’t have chased it more at Cincinnati and the US Open.
‘That was a pity — but Rafa played a full schedule, and he deserves it. I’m OK with that.’
Federer’s priority has been his health and to peak at the right moments, which has produced unprecedented results.
But there’s only one truly deserving world No. 1 for this remarkable year and he’s Spanish, not Swiss.