NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal is hungrier than Roger Federer and is likely to overhaul his Swiss rival’s grand slam title tally to become the most decorated player ever, according to former world number one Mats Wilander.
The Spanish juggernaut crushed South African Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-3 6-4 in a one-sided U.S. Open final on Sunday to claim his 16th major, leaving him three shy of Federer’s record.
The two players each won two of the grand slams in 2017 and with his performance at Flushing Meadows, Nadal has already laid down a marker for 2018.
“It was as easy as winning the French Open for Nadal. These guys are not even close, but he didn’t play one player in the top 20,” Wilander, at the U.S. Open as an analyst for Eurosport, said in his daily chat with Reuters on Sunday.
“But somebody’s gotta be the best player in the world and Rafa Nadal is the best player in the world. There’s nothing you can do to hurt him when they play on slow hard courts.
“Maybe you’d have to go to someone like Novak Djokovic to maybe beat him.”
Djokovic, as well as his fellow multiple grand slam champions Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, skipped the tournament because of injury.
“Nadal’s playing better than he ever has,” Wilander, a U.S. Open champion in 1988, added.
“He’s made changes to the serve, he’s been varying more and he’s also taken the backhand much earlier as he doesn’t play as far from the baseline when the rally is in play.
“I think the lesson he’s that he’s always learning and he’s always gonna be changing things because he has that hunger to play the perfect tennis match.
“We’ve never had a hungrier player than Federer and Nadal and I would say that Nadal is probably much hungrier than Federer,” the Swede added.
Nadal’s utter dominance on clay, which earned him a record 10 French Open titles, means that he is likely to prevail again at Roland Garros while Federer’s age might a concern.
Nadal has time on his side as he will turn 32 next year while Federer will celebrate his 37th birthday.
“I think that Nadal has a very good chance to catch Roger because he’s gonna win the French Open again at least once or twice and suddenly you’re one or two away,” said Wilander.
“Do we think that Federer is going to win another slam next year when he turns 37? I don’t know.
“He can win another one maybe but Nadal has another four or five years and people are wrong when they think that he’s physically wearing himself down.”
Nadal, instead, is using his time off to further improve.
“I think he knows what he’s doing it’s just his nature. He’d run through the wall if he could, he gets hurt but every time he comes back he’s a better player,” said Wilander.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Nick Mulvenney