Nadal insists he's not Spain's greatest athlete

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The Independent Online

US Open champion Rafael Nadal returned home today, insisting his latest tennis triumph did not qualify him as Spain's greatest-ever athlete.

Nadal, who became the seventh player to win a career Grand Slam with Monday's victory, said any comparisons to the greats was "madness."

"As a tennis player I took an important step forward with this and these have been six unforgettable months," Nadal said shortly after touching down from New York at Madrid's Barajas airport. "I can't say that I'm the best Spanish sports person of all time because I have no idea. But it's an honor to be considered."

Nadal's 2010 triumphs, including French Open and Wimbledon titles, have brought his career slams total to nine by the age of 24.

His triumphs have played a big part of a tremendous year of international sporting success for Spain, which won football's World Cup for the fist time and saw Alberto Contador win his third Tour de France in cycling.

"I don't know where (my successes) fit into this year. They are all important," the No. 1-ranked Nadal said. "Luckily, we're living during an era of Spanish sport that will be difficult to repeat. Of course we could repeat it, but we should enjoy it (now)."

Nadal's rivals for consideration of Spain's sporting great include the likes of five-time Tour champion Miguel Indurain and two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso.

While Nadal has replaced four-time majors champion Manolo Santana as the country's greatest tennis player, the Mallorca native still feels he has some improving to do.

"I'm not a complete player - there are always things I can improve," Nadal said. "(But) I'm so happy with everything that happened and can't ask for anything more"

Nadal said his three-major accomplishment of 2010 wasn't necessarily better than 2008, when he won his first Wimbledon and Olympic gold, something he considered more difficult than a Grand Slam title given the chance only comes around once every four years. He also preferred to wait and see how he fares in November's World Tours Final in London, too.

Nadal, whose improved serve saw him drop only one set at the US Open en route to beating Novak Djokovic in the final, said his main rival Roger Federer was still the benchmark of the sport and should not be written off yet.

The Swiss player, who has won a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles, wasted two match points in his semifinal defeat to Djokovic.

"I would love to have the success of Federer," Nadal said. "In nine years he's achieved things that are practically impossible to repeat. It's difficult to be 100 percent each year, but he's managed to do it and it's normal to have a little drop."