In becoming only the seventh man to complete the Career Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal has joined an elite group of players who have conquered all surfaces. Even before he won his history-making U.S. Open title, Nadal offered enough evidence of being a champion of the highest order. Eight majors; two back-to-back triumphs at the French Open and Wimbledon; dominance over the great Roger Federer (14-7) in head-to-head battles: these are exceptional achievements by any yardstick. Yet there are few feats as legitimising as winning at least one title at each of the Grand Slams. This is an achievement that confirms beyond doubt the range and roundedness of the tennis player, for it demands mastery of dissimilar conditions. In winning his ninth major and collecting the complete set, Nadal has banished the ghosts of past failures at the U.S. Open. The 24-year-old Spaniard's victory over Novak Djokovic has secured his special place in history.
The most impressive aspect of Nadal joining Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer is his evolution into an all-court player. Like Bjorn Borg before him, Nadal has built his game on movement and topspin — not uncommon attributes in themselves. But both men, thanks to their unmatched athleticism, have pushed the boundaries of each element further than their competitors. Several critics saw the style of Borg and Nadal as being enormously successful on clay; they didn't however recognise its universality and the space it offered for adjustment so it could be transported to faster courts. While Nadal started off with a broad-based foundation, fabricated at home by his uncle and coach Toni, he has constantly pushed himself to advance his skills. For years, Toni worked on improving his gifted nephew's positioning on hard courts. A couple of days before the U.S. Open, Nadal experimented with a different way of holding the racquet to serve and discovered he could hit it consistently faster. Both facets were vital in the world champion's triumph. Central to his success is his strength of mind, which has allowed him to recover from the 2009 season, when chronic knee trouble and the emotional upheaval caused by his parents' divorce appeared to enfeeble him. It's Nadal's intense will to win, his competitiveness, and his habit of winning “the long rallies on the important points” that impress Rod Laver, arguably the most emphatic champion in tennis history and the last man before Nadal to win three successive majors in a year. Laver, who won all four in 1969, calls Rafa “the real thing.” He should know.