They say rankings never lie but when it comes to this season, and assessing the accomplishments of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, choosing the player of the year will be far trickier than simply looking at the number next to their names.
As we approach the end of the 2017 season, Nadal, in top position, leads second-ranked Federer by 1,960 points in the ATP rankings.
Both players are scheduled to play three more tournaments this season – Basel, Paris and the Finals in London – but it’s already clear that figuring out who has had the better season between them will be a tough nut to crack.
Here are a few deciding factors to look at…
Nadal and Federer have each claimed six trophies this season.
For Federer, the breakdown of those titles is: two Grand Slams, three Masters 1000s, and one ATP 500 tournament. Nadal in turn has grabbed two Slams as well, along with two Masters 1000s, and a pair of ATP 500s.
The Spaniard has played significantly more matches than Federer has this year though. A healthy Nadal has contested 75 matches so far in 2017, recording a 65-10 win-loss record, while Federer has played just 48 matches – losing just four of them.
That leaves Nadal with an inferior winning percentage compared to Federer, who has won 91.7 per cent of his matches this year, while the Mallorcan is at 86.7 per cent.
On one hand, Federer’s clinical approach to the season is praiseworthy (he’s played 10 tournaments and won six) but one can’t ignore the fact that Nadal should be given credit for sustaining a high level while contesting six more events than the Swiss.
What’s more impressive: being able to win tournaments with little match practice, or bagging trophies while putting one’s body through higher strain?
Considering Federer skipped the clay season altogether, you’d have to give Nadal – a player with a long history of battling injuries – the slight edge here.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable facets to Federer’s resurgence this season is his 4-0 record against Nadal.
Starting the year with a 23-11 head-to-head lead over Federer, Nadal has managed to win just two sets out of 11 played in 2017 against the Swiss, who has cut his deficit to 15-23 against the world No.1.
While their Australian Open final at the start of the year was a close five-setter, the remaining three clashes they’ve had since have witnessed pure dominance from Federer, who has figured out his Nadal puzzle and turned the tables on the 31-year-old.
Federer has now won five matches in a row against Nadal for the first time in his career and it is the Spaniard who is suddenly searching for a solution to master his long-time rival.
One caveat: none of those five matches have come on clay.
Still, Federer’s clean record against Nadal gives him a nudge forward in the battle for supremacy this season.
Both Nadal and Federer have had their fair share of doubts thrown at them from sceptics in recent years. Entering this season, Federer hadn’t won a Slam since 2012 while Nadal was Major-less since 2014.
While Federer’s drought was longer, the Swiss had reached three Slam finals during that period while Nadal couldn’t make it past the quarters at the Majors between his Roland Garros 2014 title and the start of this season.
Considering they both struggled with injuries last year, Federer missing six months of action and Nadal skipping Wimbledon and ending his year prematurely, it’s difficult to say which player’s turnaround was more impressive.
It’s worth noting that Nadal also ended an eight-match losing streak in hard-court finals this year when he won the US Open to claim his first title on the surface since Doha 2014.
Perhaps one way to look at it is this: Federer started the year ranked 17, while Nadal was at No.9.
Federer has faced 11 top-10 opponents in 2017, amassing a 10-1 record against them, while Nadal is 12-5 against top-10 players this year.
In five-set matches, Federer is a clean 5-0 while Nadal is at 2-2 this season. In finals, Federer is 6-1, while Nadal is 6-4.
The 36-year-old Federer is 20-1 in Masters 1000 matches. His nemesis is 26-6.
It’s worth waiting until the end of the season to make a final decision on who had the better season, Nadal or Federer. The Spaniard played in Shanghai with a tape under one knee which has raised some doubts on whether he’d be able to finish the year strong.
Federer is well-rested and ready to make a big final push for the top ranking. We’re four weeks away from the end of one fascinating 2017 season.
The surprisingly one-sided 6-4, 6-3 victory over the world number one from Spain brought a 94th title for the Swiss legend, drawing him level with the great Ivan Lendl.
Nadal, who admitted afterwards that he had been defeated by the better man on the night, was ahead in their overall head-to-head record going into the clash – 23 wins to Federer’s 14.
But this time he was up against it almost right away.
Number two Federer put the Spaniard under the cosh in breaking him in the first game, to roars of approval from the majority inside the arena.
Another break to 36-year-old Federer in the fifth game of the second set put him in reach of a second Shanghai Masters crown — and a sixth title in 2017.
Federer, who has been managing his schedule to wring the best out of his ageing body, said he had improved as the week went on and felt he hit peak form just when it mattered.
“It’s been a tough week, five straight matches is always a test and a challenge for anybody’s body, especially with the pressure rising,” he said.
“I felt I was playing well all week and that settled my nerves because I was returning well from the match here against (Diego) Schwartzman (in his opener).
“The serve only got better and I saved the best for last – I played some great matches, against (Juan Martin) del Potro in sets two and three and now these two sets here today.
“In a way not surprising because I felt good all week… I was ready.”
Federer, fondly known as “Cow” in China for his laid-back personality, started the better in grabbing the break and then rattled through his own service game for 2-0.
Federer, a 19-time Grand Slam champion, was in full flow under the Qizhong Tennis Center roof, which was closed because of downpours in Shanghai.
Nadal, 31, fresh from winning the US Open and China Open, groaned while lashing many of his shots while Federer was all quiet efficiency.
Somewhere in the stadium somebody rattled a cow bell and Federer responded by making it 4-2 with two booming aces in a row.
In contrast, Nadal — a 16-time Grand Slam winner who has never won the Shanghai Masters — was labouring through his service games.
There were suggestions that Federer might not be quite as fresh as his younger foe, having been pushed to three sets a day earlier in the second semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro.
The timeless Federer rubbished that notion as he seared his way to a 5-3 first-set lead.
Nadal sent down his fourth ace for 5-4, only for Federer to seal the set with his seventh ace of the match.
There was little between the great rivals in the early exchanges of the second set until the fifth game.
Nadal saved the first break point but could not survive the second one, to put Federer in touch of the title.
Nadal’s defeat sees Federer close the gap at the top of the world rankings as the year approaches its climax. But the Spaniard has nevertheless enjoyed a remarkable season of his own.
His triumph in Beijing last weekend was also his sixth of the year as he continues to defy doubts about his fitness following repeated injuries.
The Spaniard called it “an emotional year”.
“I could maybe have done some things better,” said Nadal.
“Of course was not the best match of the week for me… but when someone plays better than you in most of the things that really matter in this sport, then it’s tough.”
He declined to say if he had been hampered by a problem with his right knee, which had a bandage on it during the match.
“I don’t want to talk about that now, sorry,” Nadal said.
“After losing a final it’s not the moment.”
* Story provided by AFP
Rafael Nadal will play Marin Cilic in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters on Saturday after the world number one was forced to fight past Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3.
The Spaniard, who has never won the Shanghai showpiece, is chasing a seventh title in a brilliant season and a hat-trick of triumphs on the trot, having been crowned US Open and China Open champion in recent weeks.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner saw off the Bulgarian Dimitrov in Beijing last week but suffered some hairy moments in getting the better of him again in a nervy quarter-final played in overcast conditions.
Top seed Nadal, 31, grabbed the crucial break of serve in the ninth game of the first set and there was nothing between them as they entered a tense second-set tie break.
Nadal got the mini-break for a 3-0 lead in the tie break, but sixth seed Dimitrov scrapped back to level, and then stunned the Spaniard to clinch the tie break.
The two friends headed into a deciding set with Dimitrov in the ascendancy and the pro-Nadal crowd fearing an upset.
Dimitrov sensed another opportunity in the fifth game of the third set, but Nadal survived the break point.
Nadal took the momentum into the next game to immediately break Dimitrov and finally end the Bulgarian’s resolve.
The Spaniard’s victory march was only momentarily held up when a disturbance broke out in the crowd and the players were forced to wait as a small group of spectators was escorted out of the arena.
A relieved Nadal looked up to the heavens and raised his arms at the end.
The Croatian fourth seed Cilic beat the unseeded Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-4 for a date with Nadal.
Cilic, bidding to reach the season-ending ATP Finals in London, grabbed the critical break in the sixth game of the first set on his way to a comprehensive victory.
Cilic said consistency was key.
“My team has worked really well in all parts of my game just to bring it up to the nice level that I can keep it up throughout every single week,” he said.
“I got to understand also all the things that we were working on.
“They are quite clear for me and I also am a little bit more consistent this year in serving performances.
“I’m winning quite a lot of service games and a lot of matches.”
The remaining two quarter-finals pit number two Roger Federer against unseeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the winner will play Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro or Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the last four.
ATP MD match wins
1. Connors, 1256
2. Federer, 1121
3. Lendl, 1068
4. Vilas, 929
5. McEnroe, 877
6. Agassi & Nadal, 870
8. Djokovic, 783
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) October 13, 2017