Rafael Nadal celebrates his US Open win. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The favourite question of tennis — will Rafael Nadal be able to catch up with Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slam titles? — needs to re-phrased after the Spaniard’s epic battle to win the US Open on Sunday.

Now only one shy of Federer’s magic figure, the issue is now not can he but rather, when will he do it?

Now 33 and looking to have put his worst injury woes behind him, the former world No 1 brought back the streetfighter spirit in him to wear down Daniil Medvedev, an opponent 10 years younger to him, in four hours, 50 minutes to win his fourth slam in New York. Come next year, Nadal can have a go at the four slams again — barring any unforeseen injuries — and a crack at what could be an unbelievable 13th French Open crown should put him at par with his friend and great rival Federer.

The stranglehold of the Big Three (keeping Andy Murray out of it because of his vulnerable fitness now) over the slams hence continued for one more year. The last time anyone outside them won the men’s singles title was Stan Wawrinka in 2015 (French Open) — and the statistic itself tells you its own story.

The styles of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic may be like chalk and cheese, but if there is one quality that sums up the secret behind their success at dominating the men’s game for the last one and-a-half decades, it’s their competitiveness and hunger.

Just ponder this: Federer had to wait for nearly five agonising years, and must have had several moments of self doubt, before he could add the 18th slam to his haul; the debilitating knee injury of Nadal nearly had his obituary written as a top class performer, while the Serbian was a mere shadow of his normal self for two seasons, thanks to his share of personal problems and fitness woes.

The trio has come back in a way only they could — and that’s what separates the men from the boys!