Top seed Rafael Nadal is doing a great job in qualifying for the US Open

Rafael Nadal was fired on Saturday after winning a point against Richard Gasquet in the third round of the US Open. Nadal won 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 and will next face American Frances Tiafoe on Monday. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

This much is indisputable: Rafael Nadal is the GOTT — the best of this era.

Whether he is also AIDOS — the greatest of all time — remains an open question. But he is building a strong case for GOAT status as he pushes for his third Grand Slam title of 2022, having missed out on a sweep of the big four when a torn abdominal muscle forced him to withdraw before his Wimbledon semi-final.

Nadal reached the fourth round of the US Open, where he has won four of his 22 Grand Slam singles titles, with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 thrashing of France’s Richard Gasquet on Saturday. Gasquet, who is 0-18 against Nadal in tournament matches and has lost 34 straight sets to him since a Canada Masters match in 2008, earned a standing ovation from sympathetic fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium when he led 3-2, 4 -3. and 5-4 in the third set. Eventually, Nadal decided he had had enough and called it quits, conserving energy for his fourth-round match on Monday against No. 22 Francis Tiafoe.

“My best match of the tournament. Easy to say that,” said the 36-year-old Spaniard, who dropped the opening set in each of his first two matches. “It’s a good win for me. I’m happy to be in the fourth round, no doubt.”

Rafael Nadal returns a shot to Richard Gasquet during their third round match at the US Open.

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his third round match. The second seed has won four of the 22 major US Open men’s singles titles. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

Nadal, who is ranked No. 3 in the world but could rise to No. 1 depending on his result at Flushing Meadows, praised Maryland’s Tiafoe as charismatic, quick and aggressive. Nadal has won their previous two meetings.

“He’s a player I’m not going to beat if I don’t play well,” Nadal said. “Well, I have to play well. I hope to do that.”

At this stage Nadal is holding himself together with medical tape and tenacity while managing a chronic leg injury and abdominal tear. He added a cut to his nose to his medical chart when his racket hit the ground, bounced and hit him in the face late in his second-round match with Fabio Fognini on Thursday. After receiving treatment and recovering from some swings, she completed a four-set victory. “I lost a little bit of – I don’t know how to say it in English – but a little bit of feeling in my head,” Nadal said that night, sporting a swollen nose that is still noticeable. “It’s about being a little bit out of the world.”

It is, indeed, out of this world. It is fragile, but indestructible. Medical miracle. A miracle, period.

With Roger Federer, 41, recovering from knee surgery and Novak Djokovic missing his second major this year due to immigration rules related to his lack of a COVID vaccination, Nadal edged out Federer, 20, and Djokovic ( 21) in singles Slam titles. Nadal may look like he’s falling apart, but he’s settled.

“When you watch Roger and Novak play, it looks like they can do it forever, the way they move and their fluidity on the court, while Rafa throws himself into every shot,” said ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe. “That was obviously a huge part of his success, but it was also part of the reason he lost so many big companies over the years. It’s all part of what makes him great. It’s also part of what made him vulnerable at times.”

According to statistics kept by the ATP Men’s Tour, Nadal has a career winning percentage of 83.3, to 83.2 for Djokovic and 82.0 for Federer. On grass, Federer is on top with 86.9%, followed by Djokovic with 85.8% and Nadal with 79.2%. Nadal leads on clay, thanks to those 14 French Open titles, with 91.3%, to 80.3% for Djokovic and 76.1% for Federer. Djokovic leads on hard courts with 84.2%, to 83.5% for Federer and 78.3% for Nadal.

Nadal has a 24-16 lead over Federer, Djokovic has a 30-29 lead over Nadal and Djokovic is 27-23 over Federer. Of the three who have dominated the Slams for so long, Federer is the most stylish, Nadal the toughest and Djokovic the youngest, giving him a chance to catch up or overtake the other two. Nadal’s achievements are sometimes downplayed because they are weighed down by his success on clay at the French Open. That should count for him, not against him.

Frances Tiafoe reacts after winning a point in the third round of the US Open.

No. 22 Francis Tiafoe reacts during his 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 14 Diego Schwarzman in the third round. (Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

“When you look at the fact that he’s won two Wimbledons now, he’s won two Australians and four US Opens, I mean he’s definitely a great hard court player,” McEnroe said. “It’s amazing, the fact that he was able to dominate the surface is arguably the most natural of the four surfaces. It says something about his work ethic and his game, his style of play and his fitness level, so I think you have to take that into consideration.”

Nadal took the No. 1 spot in McEnroe’s personal GOAT ranking. “I had Djokovic as my best until the pandemic hit. When they all got to 20, I still had Djokovic as the leader just because of the matchup. And his all-court ability, I think, is the best of the three,” McEnroe said.

“At the end of the day, I think the number [of Slam titles] of course it will be important. I don’t think it’s the best, as far as who has the most big companies. When it’s that close I think you have to look at it tooth and nail. But right now, based on Rafa, what he’s done especially in the last couple of years, and especially this year, it’s been amazing. It’s hard to say anyone is the greatest of all time, but considering Rafa has won every major now at least twice by winning in Australia, that’s certainly a good argument to make.”

There is no definitive answer. And GOAT is a legendary title anyway. But Nadal is ahead of the pack right now, if only by the length of that battle-scarred swollen nose.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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