Does Rafael Nadal hold the edge against Carolina Marin, Fernando Alonso and Sergio Garcia as Spain’s greatest sportsperson?
Rafael Nadal’s glittering achievements on the tennis court have earned him a place among the all-time greats of the game. The Spaniard has won almost everything there is to offer in the sport. From being a multi Grand Slam champion to being a World number one to winning an Olympic Gold, Nadal’s tennis resume is complete.
Nadal cemented himself as the ‘King of Clay’ by winning the French Open for a record-extending 11th time. Nadal has been hailed by many pundits as Spain’s greatest ever tennis player. Now, that is no mean feat considering the fact that Spain produced some world class players like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Manuel Santana, Conchita Martinez and Garbine Muguruza to name a few.
While there is no argument with regards to Nadal's claim to be Spain’s greatest ever tennis player, it does raise the question as to whether Rafa is the Iberian nation’s greatest ever sportsperson. Spain have been a sporting powerhouse, producing some world-class athletes at major global sports. Be it individual sports or team sports, Spain have consistently had world-class sportsmen or national teams which have dominated on the international stage. So it would be interesting to see where Nadal stands among the greatest Spanish sportspeople of all time.
In tennis, Nadal is certainly a cut above the rest. He is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of most Grand Slams won by a Spaniard. With a staggering 17 Slams in his kitty, Nadal is ahead of Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Manuel Santana’s 4 Grand Slam titles. Talk about winning titles on the ATP tour and Nadal is Numero Uno with 79 ATP titles. The next best is Manual Orantes who racked up 33 titles.
Now, let us take a look at some of Spain’s greatest athletes in other global sports
Carolina Marin - Queen of Spanish Badminton
Spain has one of the best female badminton players in Carolina Marin. Marin has reached lofty heights in her career, winning the World Championship twice and Olympic Gold in the 2016 Rio Games. She has won 6 titles at Super Series events and 2 Grand Prix events on the BWF tour.
The Spanish shuttler has scaled the number one ranking in her career. While Marin has put European women’s badminton on the world scene, it has to be seen if she can dominate her sport fending off stiff competition from the Chinese, Japanese and Indian shuttlers.
Formula 1 - Fernando Alonso (Two times World Champion)
Spanish F1 driver Fernando Alonso created ripples in the Formula One circuit by breaking the dominance of Michael Schumacher to win the World title twice in 2005 and 2006. Alonso had fierce competition from ace drivers like Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastien Vettel who challenged him to the hilt all through his career. Amid stiff rivalry with world-class drivers, Alonso has certainly done extremely well to win 32 Grand Prix races.
Spanish rally driver Carlos Sainz won the World Rally Championship twice in 1990 and 1992. Post retiring from World Rally Championship, he won the 2010 Dakar Rally. Daniel Sordo finished a creditable third in the World Rally Championship in 2008 and 2009.
MOTO GP - Lorenzo and Marquez are multiple World Champions
Spaniards have produced some world-class riders in the Moto GP arena. Alex Criville became the first Spaniard to win the 500cc World Championship in 1999. In the last decade, Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez have been multiple time world champions in Moto GP. While Lorenzo clinched the MotoGP World Championship in 2010, 2012 and 2015, Marc Marquez won the World Championship in 2013,2014,2016 and 2017. Meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa, Álvaro Bautista and Emilio Alzamora have won multiple races on the circuit. The Spaniards have certainly ended the sheer dominance of Valentino Rossi at the very top in the sport.
Cycling - Miguel Indurain (Five Time Tour De France Winner)
The Spaniards have been pretty good on the cycling track and boast of a long list of riders who won the prestigious Tour de France. Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre were all successful in winning the Tour de France.
The most successful Spanish cyclist of all time is Miguel Indurain. He won the Tour de France for five consecutive years between 1991 and 1995, a record which still stands the test of time.
GOLF - Seve Ballesteros (50 European Tour Titles)
Spain can be proud of some world class golfers who have won a couple of majors on the PGA and European tour.
Seve Ballesteros has been the most dominant golfer on the European tour winning 50 titles. He won the U.S. Masters Tournament twice, and the British Open three times. José María Olazábal has two Masters Titles in his kitty.
Sergio Garcia has won 31 professional titles in his golfing career and been consistently ranked among the top ten golfers in the world. Garcia clinched the 2017 Masters.
SPAIN NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM - 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP WINNERS
The Spanish national football team is considered among the best in the world. After underachieving on the world stage for many years, Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and doubled it up with back to back Euro Cup titles in 2008 and 2012.
The last decade saw Spain dominating world football with a galaxy of superstars. Right from their star strikers in David Villa and Fernando Torres to creative midfielders in Andreas Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso and Xavi to solid defenders in Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, La Roja saw its golden generation ruling the roost.
However, Spain’s dominance was broken by Germany who won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The emergence of Portugal and Belgium as football powerhouses and the renaissance in French football have derailed Spain from the very top.
So in a nutshell, Spain have produced world beaters in different international sports. However, Nadal’s extended period of dominance at the very top makes him a class above the rest. One has to remember that Nadal broke Federer’s dominance at his very peak and won multiple Grand Slams in an era where Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were the major challengers for every slam. Hence, it will have to be seen for how long Marin, Alonso, Garcia and Lorenzo can remain dominant in their respective sporting careers. As of now, Nadal seems to have the slight edge.