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Greatest ever debate starts

PARIS, France, June 6 – Rafael Nadal's win over Roger Federer in the French Open final on Sunday will reignite the age-old debate about who is the greatest player of all time.

Both men are scathing of any such comparisons, but that will not stop the arguments which are set to escalate as Federer, approaching 30, enters the twilight of his career and 25-year-old Nadal, fitness permitting, enters the prime of his.

The Spaniard’s thrilling four sets win at Roland Garros means he now has 10 Grand Slam titles, with six French Opens, two Wimbledons, and one apiece at the US and Australian Opens.

He is now in sixth equal place on the all-time list level with 1920s American star Bill Tilden and just one behind legends Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg.

More pertinently he is now just six Grand Slam titles shy of the record currently held by Federer, who is five years older.

Having proved that he can play well and win on all surfaces, Nadal looks set to at least match Federer’s total which would give him a statistical argument to claim he is the best player ever.

Not that it seems to matter much to the player himself.

"When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it’s not very interesting to me," he said.

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"I’m very happy with what I have, with who I am. I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m amongst the best. That’s true. That’s enough for me."

Sentiments echoed by Federer, who long laid siege to Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles which he equalled with his crucial win in the 2009 French Open and then followed up by winning at Wimbledon the same year and at the Australian Open in 2010.

"Who cares where you stand," he said.

"It’s when it’s over that you can’t do anything any longer, that’s when you’re proud of what you accomplished.

If both men are unwilling to enter the debate, they certainly are acutely aware of the intensity of their rivalry, one of the greatest in the history of any sport.

To date the two have met an incredible 25 times, 14 of these on clay, since a teenage Nadal shocked Federer in straight sets on the Miami hardcourts in early 2004.

The Swiss star grabbed his first win over the Spaniard at the same tournament the following year when he bounced back from two sets to love down to win.

But since then it is Nadal who has dominated their head-to-heads and he now stands at 17-8 with a Grand Slam finals record of 6-2 against his arch-rival.

Despite the arrival of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro at the topmost level of the sport, Nadal and Federer both agree that in any tournament their greatest adversary is the other.

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That rivalry will now switch over to London where Nadal will try to defend his Wimbledon crown with six-times former winner Federer desperate to equal the seven titles won by his great idol Sampras.

"That’s obviously the huge priority right now, to win Wimbledon in a few weeks’ time. That’s always, for me, the number one goal in the season," Federer said.

"This is where it all started for me back in 2003; or even with Sampras earlier in ’01. So that’s why I always really enjoy coming back."

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