Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the greatest players to have ever stepped foot on a court. The duo’s respective tallies of 20 and 19 Grand Slam titles are the most in the history of the game.
On the day the Spaniard turned 34, an old tweet by Patrick McEnroe wondering about the rankings of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the ages of 34 has resurfaced. Needless to say, the tweet has elicited plenty of mocking comments from fans of the Spaniard.
I wonder what Djokovic and Nadal will be ranked at 34
— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) August 8, 2015
Five years after Patrick McEnroe put out the said tweet, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are firmly ensconced in the top echelons of the rankings. Djokovic is ranked No. 1 right now, and Nadal is the second-highest ranked player in the world.
Perhaps the tweet by Patrick McEnroe in 2015 was a eulogy of Roger Federer’s prowess at 34, but it smacked of a gross underestimation of the abilities of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Djokovic has not yet turned 34, but Rafael Nadal has – and he is arguably playing even better than Federer was at the same age.
A statistical comparison of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s careers at the age of 34 is quite revealing, with the Spaniard being ahead in a few significant areas.
At 34, Rafael Nadal has more Grand Slams than Roger Federer had at that age
A 34-year-old Rafael Nadal has 19 Grand Slam titles and stands just one behind Roger Federer’s tally of 20, which is an all-time record.
That is two more Slams than what his good friend and arch-rival had at the same age. At 34, Roger Federer had 17 Major titles in his kitty and was on a three-and-a-half-year Grand Slam title drought.
Rafael Nadal also picked up more Grand Slam titles (19) in fewer appearances (59) than Roger Federer’s 17 from 64. In other words, the 34-year-old Rafael Nadal has picked up a Grand Slam title in roughly every three appearances, while Roger Federer did so once every four (approximately) at the same age.
In fact, after turning 30, Rafael Nadal has picked up an Open Era record five Grand Slam titles (tied with Novak Djokovic). Roger Federer on the other hand has won just four Majors since celebrating his 30th birthday.
The Spaniard’s latest Grand Slam title came at the 2019 US Open last year, following a five-set win over Daniil Medvedev.
Rafael Nadal battles his way to a fourth US Open title, defeating Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.@RafaelNadal | #USOpen pic.twitter.com/rT8IzHfyrx
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2019
Moreover, Rafael Nadal’s 35 Masters 1000 titles at the age of 34 is a whopping 12 clear of Roger Federer’s tally of 23 at the same age.
Rafael Nadal has a better match win % than Roger Federer at 34, and also greater success while representing his country
On the day he turned 34, Roger Federer (1035) had more match wins than Rafael Nadal (990) at the same age. However, Roger Federer’s win-loss % of 81.5 was less than that of Rafael Nadal’s mark of 83.2% (990-200).
Moreover, Nadal has five Davis Cup titles to his name already, with Roger Federer trailing far behind at one. And in the Olympics, the Spaniard has two Olympic gold medals – one in singles and one in doubles. Federer, by contrast, has one gold medal in doubles, and only a silver in singles.
Does Roger Federer lead Rafael Nadal in any aspect at the age of 34?
Yes, Roger Federer does have the lead in a couple of aspects: year-end championships and weeks at No. 1.
The Swiss had won as many as six year-end championships by the time he turned 34, while Rafael Nadal is yet to win one. Also, while Federer had been ranked World No. 1 for a record 302 weeks at that age, the Spaniard has so far held the top spot for 209 weeks.
Lastly, no analysis can be complete without a look at how the duo fared against their biggest nemesis, Novak Djokovic.
A 34-year-old Roger Federer was a dead even 20-20 with Novak Djokovic at 34, while Rafael Nadal trails the Serb 26-29. From a pure numbers perspective, Roger Federer gets the honors in the ‘Djokovic category’. That said, it is debatable whether much stock should be put into this stat given how much older Federer is compared to the Serb (while Nadal and Djokovic are separated by just one year).
Overall, it can be said that Rafael Nadal leads Roger Federer at the age of 34 in two significant categories – Slams and Masters – while Federer has the upper hand in one significant area – weeks at No. 1. The other two aspects – year-end championships and national laurels – are split 1-1, which gives Nadal the overall lead at 3-2.
And to think most tennis observers have been expressing skepticism about Rafael Nadal’s longevity ever since he first beat Roger Federer at a Grand Slam – exactly 15 years to this day.