Paris: When Roger Federer won his 17th Grand Slam title in 2012, it seemed his record haul would last forever as it took more than a century of trying for a super-human male athlete to come along and win that many major trophies.
Yet only two years later, a younger, fitter, hungrier rival by the name of Rafael Nadal is now threatening to topple the Swiss from his perch after hoisting his 14th Major silverware at Roland Garros on Sunday.
As the Spaniard has now contested the last three Slam finals it is not inconceivable that by the time he returns to Paris next year to target a 10th Musketeers’ Cup, his name could be alongside Federer’s on the list of all-time leading title hoarders.
As the first man to win nine times at the same grand slam tournament and with time still on his side, Nadal has shown no signs of relinquishing his hold at the French Open, where he owns an eye-popping 66-1 win-loss record.
The tennis world may be obsessed with finding out just how many more trophies Nadal is capable of winning but the 28-year-old did not seem to care a hoot about where he ended up in the pecking order.
“Federer, well, he’s had 17 and I have had 14 Grand Slams... but I’m not really worried. It’s not a source of motivation for me,” said the French Open champion, who owns two Wimbledon titles, two US Open and an Australian Open trophy.
“I don’t really care that much about the records. I’ll still play with a lot of intensity. I’ll still be motivated.
“I’ll follow my own path. Then when my career is over, we’ll count.”
That path will initially lead him to Wimbledon, where he desperately wants to make amends for his shock first-round defeat last year to 135th-ranked Belgian Steve Darcis.
The switch from clay to grass in just two weeks proved to be a challenge too for Nadal and his overworked knees in 2013, especially as he was on the way back from a seven-month injury break.
Twelve months on an he is more optimistic about his return to the home of lawn tennis.
“I want to try to play well again in Wimbledon,” said the Spaniard, who preserved his status as world number one by beating Novak Djokovic in the French Open final.
“I’m healthy. That’s the most important thing.”
“I hope my knee will have the positive feeling on grass, because I feel my knee is better than last year on the rest of the surfaces.
“Grass always was a little bit harder for me after the injury. Last year I tried, but I was not ready to compete at Wimbledon.
“Let’s see how my feelings are there this year, but it’s a very important tournament. It’s a tournament I really love so much.”
After his loss to Darcis last year, Nadal came under pressure to skip future grass court seasons if he wanted to prolong his career.
One of those urging him to rethink was three-times Wimbledon champion Boris Becker who has since gone on to join Djokovic’s coaching set-up.
“He definitely has to consider whether grass has a future for him,” said Becker at the time. “Grass is very different compared to the other surfaces. Your movement is different and you have to have healthy legs because you’re changing direction, you’re slipping and sliding.
“If you have a knee problem, grass is the worst surface. Hard courts are not as bad because you have a firm position, you can put your foot down and stand up to hit the ball — the bounce is higher, so you don’t have to bend as low.”
Even Nadal admits he is unsure over how he will fare in Halle, where he is top seed after skipping the tournament last year.
“I know probably the result will not be the perfect one because the days of preparation are not the right ones. And after how tough the match (on Saturday) was physically, I will be more tired.” (AGENCIES)