Nadal narrows gap on Federer in Grand Slam race with US Open triumph: Our guide to men's Grand Slam champions

Hannah Wilks in Features 13 Sep 2019
  • Rafael Nadal captures 19th Grand Slam title at the 2019 US Open
  • Roger Federer still holds the all-time record for major titles but Nadal, Novak Djokovic in hot pursuit
  • Check out our guide to all the major champions currently dominating men's tennis
Rafael Nadal with the US Open trophy after winning the 2019 men's final (PA Sports)

Rafael Nadal is in touching distance of Roger Federer's all-time Grand Slam record after claiming the 2019 US Open title: We profile all the major champions currently dominating men's tennis.

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From the titanic 'Big Three' who lead the all-time winners' list to one-hit wonders like Juan Martin del Potro, the current era of men's tennis features some of its most charismatic champions. We profile all eight of the active male players who have won one of the sport's biggest four titles. Who will be the next to join them?

ATP Grand Slam champions

Roger FedererSwitzerland618520
Rafael NadalSpain1122419
Novak DjokovicSerbia715316
Stan WawrinkaSwitzerland11-13
Andy MurrayGreat Britain--213
Juan Martin del PotroArgentina---11
Marin CilicCroatia---11

Roger Federer

Nationality: Swiss

Plays: Right-handed, single-handed backhand

Major titles: Australian Open 2004, 2006-7, 2010, 2017-18; French Open 2009; Wimbledon 2003-7, 2009, 2012, 2017; US Open 2004-8 (20)

Roger Federer has won more Grand Slam titles than any other man in history, surpassing the previous record-holder (Pete Sampras) when he won Wimbledon in 2009.

Federer is one of eight men to have won a career Grand Slam, completing his in 2009 when he won the 2009 French Open after three times falling short in the final to Rafael Nadal.

The Swiss player holds the outright record for most Wimbledon titles, having won the tournament eight times, and won at least one Grand Slam each season for eight years in 2003-2010. He is one of three players who have won five consecutive titles at a single Grand Slam along with Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal, and is the only one to have done so at two different Grand Slams (Wimbledon in 2003-7 and the US Open in 2004-8). On two separate occasions, Federer has won a Grand Slam title without dropping a set, doing so at the Australian Open in 2007 and Wimbledon in 2017.

Sixteen of Federer's 20 Grand Slam titles came in the period between Wimbledon 2003, when he defeated Andy Roddick and Mark Philipppoussis back to back to win his maiden major title, and the 2010 Australian Open when he defeated Andy Murray in the final. In 2011, Federer made a solitary Grand Slam final at the French Open, losing to Nadal, and won his seventeenth Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2012 when he came back from a set down to beat Murray.

Federer's streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances was snapped when he was defeated in the second round of Wimbledon 2013 to Sergiy Stakhovsky, and he lost three straight Grand Slam finals to Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon 2014-15 and the US Open 2015). Federer's streak of 65 consecutive main-draw Grand Slam appearances was broken when he missed the 2016 French Open due to injury, and he sat out the last six months of that season following knee surgery in February.

Since returning from that brief absence, Federer has won the Australian Open twice, defeating Nadal and Marin Cilic in the finals, and Wimbledon once, beating Cilic in the final. Most recently, Federer reached his record 31st Grand Slam final at Wimbledon 2019, losing in a fifth-set tie-break to Djokovic despite holding two championship points.

Rafael Nadal

Nationality: Spanish

Plays: Left-handed, double-handed backhand

Major titles: Australian Open 2009; French Open 2005-8, 2010-14, 2017-19; Wimbledon 2008, 2010; US Open 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019 (19)

Rightfully known as the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal is nevertheless no single-surface specialist: The youngest man in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam, which he did at the age of 24 when he won the 2010 US Open, Nadal's total of 19 major titles is second only to Roger Federer's.

Nadal was still a teenager when he won the French Open on his first appearance in 2005, beating Mariano Puerta in the final and becoming the first male teenager to win a major since Pete Sampras at the 1990 US Open. The Spaniard would go on to win an incredible 11 further French Open titles. Only two men have ever defeated Nadal at Roland Garros: Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals in 2015. In 2016, he was forced to withdraw injured. 

Nadal is only the second player after Mats Wilander to have won multiple major titles on each surface. It did not take him long to begin conquering other surfaces: He made the Wimbledon final in 2006 and 2007, finishing runner-up to Roger Federer, before he triumphed over the five-time champion in the 2008 final, a match which is widely considered the greatest ever played. He captured the Wimbledon title a second time in 2010, defeating Tomas Berdych, but has not reached the Wimbledon final since losing to Novak Djokovic in 2011.

Nadal won his first and only Australian Open title in 2009 after defeating Federer in the final, and completed the career Grand Slam at the 2010 US Open, defeating Djokovic in the final. Since then, he has struggled to win major titles outside of the French Open. The exception has been the US Open, where Nadal has triumphed on three subsequent occasions: 2013 (d. Djokovic), 2017 (d. Kevin Anderson) and most recently in 2019, when he defeated Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller.

Only the second player after Djokovic to have won more than 10 major titles this decade, Nadal won at least one major title each year from 2005 to 2014 and is the only man in the Open Era to have won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in a single year, which he did in 2010. 

Nadal has three times won the French Open without losing a set, and his incredible record of 12 titles - and counting - at a single Grand Slam tournament seems unlikely ever to be broken.

Novak Djokovic

Nationality: Serbian

Plays: Right-handed, double-handed backhand

Major titles: Australian Open 2008, 2011-13, 2015-16, 2019; French Open 2016; Wimbledon 2014-15, 2018-19; US Open 2011, 2015, 2018 (16)

Novak Djokovic has won the third most Grand Slam titles behind Federer (20) and Nadal (18), claiming his sixteenth major title at Wimbledon in 2019 when he defeated Federer in a fifth-set tie-break in the final.

Djokovic reached his maiden major final at the 2007 US Open, losing to Federer in straight sets, and became the first player from Serbia to win a Grand Slam when he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final of the 2008 Australian Open, having beaten Federer in the semifinals. It would take almost three years for Djokovic to make his third Grand Slam final, and when he did, he lost it, to Rafael Nadal at the US Open in 2010.

But since then, Djokovic's dominance has been incredible, with the Serb winning 15 of the 36 Grand Slams played in the 2010s. In 2015-16, Djokovic held all four Grand Slam titles at the same time - the 'Nole Slam' - and became the eighth man in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam when he won the French Open in 2016. 

A period of comparatively poor results followed, as Djokovic struggled with an elbow injury and for motivation after completing the career Grand Slam. But he returned to glory at Wimbledon in 2018, defeating Kevin Anderson in the final, and went on to win three of the next four majors (the only exception the 2019 French Open, when he lost in the semifinals to Dominic Thiem). 

Djokovic holds the all-time record for most Australian Open titles, with his most recent victory coming over Nadal in the 2019 final.

Stan Wawrinka

Nationality: Swiss

Plays: Right-handed, single-handed backhand

Major titles: Australian Open 2014, French Open 2015, US Open 2016 (3)

Stan 'the Man' Wawrinka was a late bloomer in tennis terms but proved to be the most successful player ever at busting up the hegemony enjoyed by the 'Big Three' over Grand Slam titles once he came into his own.

Wawrinka played in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time at the 2005 French Open and won his first ATP Tour title in Umag in 2006, but for some time he was seen as something of an underachiever and was certainly perennially overshadowed by compatriot Federer, with only brief flares that showed what he was capable of (making a Masters 1000 Series final in Rome in 2008, and beating Federer at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in 2009, are two examples).

Wawrinka made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open in 2010 and reached another at the Australian Open in 2011, but it was not until after he had teamed up with Magnus Norman that he began to really make an impact. A quarterfinalist at the French Open in 2013, Wawrinka made his first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open later that year and in January 2014, produced a brilliant run at the Australian Open, defeating Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set in the quarterfinals and going on to oust Nadal in four sets in the final.

Rising to a career-high ranking of world no. 3 as a result, Wawrinka went on to beat Federer and Djokovic to win the 2015 French Open and claimed the US Open title the following year, beating former champion Juan Martin del Potro, Kei Nishikori and Djokovic again.

Wawrinka lost his first Grand Slam final when he was defeated by Nadal in the French Open final in 2017 and missed the last six months of the season, undergoing multiple knee surgeries.His ranking dropped outside the top 200 as a result, although he did make his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since his return at the French Open in 2019.

Andy Murray

Nationality: British

Plays: Right-handed, double-handed backhand

Major titles: Wimbledon 2013, 2016; US Open 2012 (3)

Sir Andy Murray shouldered the burden of immense national pressure to become Great Britain's first homegrown Wimbledon champion in over 70 years.

Criticized as a youngster for his lack of physical conditioning, Murray took on the job of becoming one of the fittest men in the sport, a trait he showcased when he reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon in 2008 with a dramatic five-set victory over Richard Gasquet. 

He would make his first Grand Slam final at the 2008 US Open, but was denied by Roger Federer, setting a pattern for the next few years of his career: He would come close, making the semifinals of a major on six different occasions and three major finals during the 2009-2012 period, but would be persistently unable to take the final step, beaten by Federer and then Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2010-11, and then by Federer at Wimbledon in 2012, after which he publicly teared up when speaking to the crowd.

Winning the gold medal in singles at the 2012 Olympics - played at Wimbledon - seemed to unburden Murray, however, and he shortly afterwards claimed his first major title at the US Open, beating Djokovic in five sets to become Great Britain's first Grand Slam champion since the 1970s. Wimbledon remained the dream, however - a dream which Murray realized when he beat Djokovic in straight sets to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Murray paid the price for his relentless pursuit of excellence as a back injury saw him miss the last few months of the 2013 season, undergo back surgery and struggle through much of 2014. Returning to form, he lost consecutive Australian Open finals to Djokovic in 2015-16, made his first French Open final in 2016 (denied by Djokovic again) but claimed his second Wimbledon title with a defeat of Milos Raonic that summer and took the world no. 1 ranking from Djokovic by the end of that year.

It was Murray's peak; he struggled badly with a hip injury in 2017, not playing after his Wimbledon title defense was ended by Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals, and although he made an abortive attempt at a comeback in 2018, he could only play 12 matches that season. After revealing he was on the brink of retirement at the 2019 Australian Open, Murray underwent drastic hip resurfacing surgery which has since enabled him to attempt a comeback in doubles although whether he will be able to approach anything like his former level in singles remains to be seen.

Juan Martin del Potro

Nationality: Argentine

Plays: Right-handed, double-handed backhand

Major titles: US Open 2009 (1)

The great 'what might have been' of men's tennis in the past decade, Juan Martin del Potro captured the world's imagination when he won the US Open title in 2009, defeating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer back to back, but a series of injuries decimated his career.

The 6'6" del Potro became the first man to defeat Federer and Nadal at the same Grand Slam when he won the 2009 US Open, and was the only player outside the Big Four to win a major between Wimbledon 2005 and the 2013 US Open.

The fifth-youngest man to win the US Open in the Open Era, del Potro's breakthrough was almost immediately followed by a year-long absence due to tendonitis in his right wrist which required surgical repair and prevented him from defending his title. Returning to action in 2011, del Potro made his first Grand Slam semifinal since that 2009 US Open at Wimbledon in 2013, when he pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets. But del Potro was only able to play a total of 14 matches in 2014-15 due to tendonitis in his left wrist which required multiple surgeries to repair. 

Returning in 2016 with a ranking outside the top 1,000, del Potro reached the quarterfinals of the US Open that same season as well as winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics (defeating Djokovic and Nadal on the way) and helping Argentina to their first Davis Cup title. He made the semifinals of the US Open in 2017, beating Federer, and reached his first Grand Slam final in nine years at the US Open in 2018, matching his career-high ranking of world no. 3 as a result. But del Potro fractured his kneecap in October of that year and, after playing a handful of matches in spring 2019, re-fractured the same kneecap at Queen's Club, requiring surgery. It is uncertain whether we will see him back competing.

Marin Cilic

Marin Cilic with the US Open trophy in 2014 (PA Sports)
: 28 September 1988 in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nationality: Croatian

Plays: Right-handed, double-handed backhand

Major titles: US Open 2014 (1)

Big-serving Croatian Marin Cilic is one of only three men to have won a Grand Slam title since the 2006 French Open.

Born just five days after junior rival del Potro, Cilic had his Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2009 US Open too when he made the quarterfinals, beating Andy Murray, only to lose to del Potro.

Cilic would get revenge on del Potro at the 2010 Australian Open, where he made his first major semifinal, but was unable to reach another at the next 16 majors he played despite making quarterfinal appearances at the US Open in 2013 and Wimbledon in 2014 (he also received a nine-month ban, reduced to four months on appeal, for ingestion of a banned substance),

At the 2014 US Open, Cilic produced a dazzling run of performances to defeat Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori - all in straight sets - in the three final rounds to claim the trophy, following in the footsteps of his then-coach Goran Ivanisevic.

Cilic has made five subsequent Grand Slam quarterfinals, one semifinal (at the 2015 US Open) and finished runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon in 2017 and at the Australian Open in 2018.

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Nadal narrows gap on Federer in Grand Slam race with US Open triumph: Our guide to men's Grand Slam champions

Rafael Nadal now trails Roger Federer by just one Grand Slam title after he increases his haul to 19, beating Daniil Medvedev in five sets to claim the 2019 US Open title: Here is our guide to the active Grand Slam champions in the men's game from the Big Three to one-hit wonders like Juan Martin del Potro

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