After sustaining a stress fracture in one of his ribs earlier, Nadal returned to competition at the Madrid Open in May 2022. (he played an entire match with that fracture in a previous tournament rather than forfeiting it). Even though his opponent, David Goffin, had four match points against him, Nadal battled back to win a difficult three-hour-and-ten-minute encounter. After the match, Nadal said, “I always said it many, many times, you have to learn how to live with this kind of moments, and also to enjoy this suffering. It’s what we work for, for thrilling moments.”
This is just one of the many instances where Rafael Nadal has battled and emerged victorious against the opponent and his injuries. Nadal has pushed through some of the most arduous matches in tennis history throughout his career. Nadal specialises in clay courts, a surface that emphasises endurance. In many of his interviews, he talks about how much he enjoys pain and uses it as fuel to overpower his opponent.
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At the age of 36, Rafael Nadal is still making history. Regarded as the G.O.A.T. in Tennis, Nadal now has 22 Grand Slam titles and 14 French Open titles to his name. Playing at a time considered the ‘golden’ age of Tennis, with ace players like Roger Federer and Novac Djokovic in their prime, Rafael Nadal has emerged as the ‘prodigy,’ with a will to sustain and emerge victorious amidst hardships and injuries. Being consistent through the ups and downs of sports is a common phenomenon depicted by many sports players who continue to play through the bad patches, but players who show a will to ‘win’ every time they hit the ground are relatively rare. The fact that Nadal has never been outside the top 10 since 2005 is a testament to the legacy he enjoys on the tennis court.
Competing for the 18th time in the latest Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal defeated 23-year-old Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0, expanding his record in each category, defeating the likes of Djokovic, and bolstering his claim to be men’s tennis’ best of all time.
Nadal has never lost in the final of a French Open. He won his first title at age 19 and has only lost four times since then, losing in the fourth round in 2009, quarterfinals in 2015, semifinals in 2021, and withdrawing before the third round in 2016.
Rafael Nadal’s Journey
Rafael Nadal comes from a sports-minded family, having begun playing Tennis when he was four years old, with the help of another uncle, Toni Nadal, who remained his coach on the professional circuit. Right-handed Nadal used to play left-handed Tennis with a two-handed forehand and backhand in his early years. However, his uncle urged him to switch to a more traditional left-handed approach when he was 12 years old. Nadal kept his two-handed backhand but turned to his famous one-handed forehand, which is credited with catapulting him to the top of the sport’s rankings.
Starting professionally in 2001, Nadal rapidly rose to the top of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour. In 2005, Nadal set a record by winning 11 tournaments, including his debut at the French Open (Roland Garros), where he stunned Federer in the semifinals. The following year, Nadal won five additional ATP titles, including his second consecutive French Open title, this time defeating Federer in the final. The most famous is the 2008 Wimbledon final, where Nadal defeated Federer to win his fourth consecutive French Open title, tying Björn Borg’s record of four consecutive titles. This time, Nadal won his fifth career Grand Slam title—in a five-set encounter that lasted 4 hours 48 minutes, the longest men’s singles final in Wimbledon history—and became the first man since Borg (1980) to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. It was also a match in which Nadal came close to losing. Many expected Nadal to be emotionally devastated when Federer returned from a two-set hole to square the match. During a break in the match, though, Nadal said something interesting to Toni Nadal, his coach, and uncle. Nadal urged Uncle Toni to relax and said, “I’m not going to lose this match. Federer may win, but I’m not going down without a fight.”
After enjoying a golden phase from 2005-2014, Nadal was hampered by injuries throughout the remainder of the 2014 season as he battled to regain his form. He did not win a Grand Slam title during that year, ending a record sequence of ten years in a row in which he had won at least one major tournament. In 2016, Nadal’s finest Grand Slam performance was a fourth-round exit at the U.S. Open, but he received some atonement by winning his second career Olympic gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games. At the 2017 Australian Open, he reached his first Grand Slam final in three years, losing a thrilling five-set thriller to Federer. In June 2017, Nadal won his 10th career French Open victory, ending his Grand Slam title drought. He won his third U.S. Open singles title three months later. Since then, Nadal has been consistent in his grand slam victories despite his struggle with injuries.
Hailed as the greatest to ever grace the sport with his brute strength and unparalleled resilience, Nadal also depicts humility, a quality rare in his category. Nadal has embraced humility as a recurring motif in his career. When Nadal became one of the youngest male players to win all four Grand Slam championships in 2010 at the age of 24, someone questioned him after the match if he thought he was better than his big opponent, Roger Federer. He replied that discussions about him being better than Federer were ridiculous because it was evident that Federer was the greater player.
That reputation is one of the reasons why Nadal has received the Stefan Edberg sportsmanship award four years in a row from his fellow players.
When asked about his future plans, Nadal replied in his typical response ‘I will keep fighting’.
Feature Image Credits: CNN