Zen and the Art of Rafael Nadal
Credit: Julian Finney / Getty Images
To win big is to have more to lose, which is why Nadal has much at stake this spring and summer as he tries to maintain his supremacy over Federer at the French Open and then at Wimbledon, where they may write another chapter in what has become the most captivating rivalry in sports.

Has Nadal passed Federer for good? It's not that cut-and-dried, but "Nadal is 22, Fed is 27, and usually 22 to 26 are your peak years," says tennis analyst, coach, and former player Brad Gilbert. "So Fed is coming out of his peak years, and Nadal is heading into his."

What makes Nadal so dangerous, says Gilbert, who dubs him the "new Borg," is that he already plays "fantastic offense and amazing defense" and is still getting better. "What he does so well is he adjusts on faster courts. He's not resting on his laurels."

Nadal is poised, potentially, to achieve the near-impossible: a calendar grand slam. "What becomes hard is the cumulative weight of the tennis year," says tennis writer Joel Drucker, "the weight of the pressure, of factors ranging from schedule to weather to injuries to a sizzling-hot opponent. All those things play into it. If he does it, it would be one of the most incredible feats in sports history."

How does Nadal see his chances? He answers by holding his thumb and forefinger half an inch apart. "Really small," he says.

Still, he'll be out there trying, and working to get even better. What we'll be watching is something richer, grander, and more encompassing than an athlete reaching for the peak of his powers. "You can talk about Rafael's tennis, his forehand, his speed," says Toni -Nadal. "But his mental strength, his playing well when he has to battle – to me, that is most important. That's just his character."