Thanks to his incredible run between the Australian Open 2017-18, Roger Federer is still the leader of the pack when we talk about the GOAT race. Still, following two Major crowns secured in 2019 at Roland Garros and the US Open, his closest rival Rafael Nadal is just one title behind the Swiss, hoping to catch him at his beloved Roland Garros in a couple of weeks.
Due to the coronavirus, Nadal had stayed at home in Mallorca for six months, recharging batteries and working on clay ahead of Rome and Roland Garros. Keeping the points from the previous season, Nadal skipped the US Open, returning to the court this week at Foro Italico after 200 days, scoring two wins before suffering the 40th loss on clay in a career against Diego Schwartzman.
Following the third-round victory over Dusan Lajovic, Nadal said he can't always think about the GOAT race against Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, doing things his way like forever in the previous two decades and hoping for more chances to fight for Major trophies.
Nadal has won 12 Roland Garros titles so far and will have to raise his level if he wants to chase the 13th, suffering a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Diego Schwartzman in two hours and three minutes. Unlike in the opening two matches, nothing worked Nadal's way on Saturday night, struggling with the humidity and a great rival on the other side of the net, who did everything right to topple the defending champion in straight sets.
Diego can hurt Rafa when his game is on, challenging him on clay before but never taking the next step and keeping that level from start to finish.
Rafael Nadal is not obsessed with Roger Federer's 20 Major title.
He did that last night, dominating the opener and staying focused in set number two to advance into the semis for the second straight year in Rome.
Rafa was outplayed on both serve and return, making way too many mistakes and never looking comfortable with his strokes. Diego drew five breaks from 54% points taken on the return, neutralizing Rafa's initial shot and getting broken only twice to move over the top in style.
Firing 31 winners and 17 unforced errors, the Argentine controlled the scoreboard, mixing up his game to outplay the most formidable rival on the slowest surface. After a terrible opener, Rafa gave his best in set number two, although it wasn't enough to keep him safe, heading back home to Spain and hitting the practice courts to improve certain things ahead of Paris.
"When you ask me about Roger Federer's record, I always say the same. I made my entire career in my way and will keep doing that. I'm not obsessed with those 20 Major titles; I can't always think about Roger or Novak Djokovic and our race for most Majors.
I know journalists put a lot of attention on that. I would love to finish my career on 25 Majors, but that's unlikely to happen. I'm going to fight and create chances; we will see when I finish my career. I want to keep enjoying tennis, that's all.
If I'm playing on a high level, I'm a Major contender. If not, it's impossible to win it," Rafael Nadal said.