Rafael Nadal was born on the Spanish island of Mallorca, known for its sandy beaches, but the tennis star will forever be linked to another floor as the undisputed “king of dirt”.
The 36-year-old won 14 of his 22 major titles on clay at the French Open, a record in the history of yellowball.
But he is waging a final war, with his announcement Thursday of his withdrawal from the Roland Garros championship. For not recovering from a hip injury, and that 2024 will be his last in the stadiums.
His fitness, energy, mental strength and fantastic forehand made him one of the greatest players of all time, although debate rages over who is the best in history.
Along with Serbian Novak Djokovic and retired Swiss Roger Federer, he formed what has been known as the “Big Three” for more than a decade.
Nadal started playing tennis in his hometown of Manacor, focusing on it more than football. His influential uncle, Tony Nadal, supervised his training between 2005 and 2017, contributing to the development of his powerful forehand.
“Nadal used to play his forehand and backhand (with both hands) until the age of 10,” Toni said. When we started playing the one-handed forehand, he did it with his left hand, and that’s how things started and became the way they are. It’s still great.”
Nadal comes from a sports family; His other uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, played professional football with Barcelona, knowing that Rafael is a loyal fan of rivals Real Madrid.
He became a professional player at the age of 14 and played his first match at Wimbledon, the third of the four Grand Slams, in 2003 when he was 17 years old.
– The duel with Federer –
The matador won his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros 2005, and retained it the following year at the expense of Federer; What marked the beginning of an exciting competition.
He fell later in the same year to the Swiss in the Wimbledon final, but he proved, despite the loss, that he was not only a specialist on clay, but on any ground.
He added two titles at Roland Garros against the same opponent before losing again to Federer in the 2007 Wimbledon final.
At the third attempt in London, he finally managed to beat the Swiss maestro in a crazy and exciting final before achieving, after about a month, the individual gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He lifted his first trophy at the 2009 Australian Open, again beating Federer – his opponent in 7 of his first 8 Grand Slam finals.
– King of the dirt –
In perhaps his best ever 2010, Nadal became the first men’s player to win three major titles on three different courts (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open).
In men, only Nadal and American Andre Agassi managed to win all the Grand Slam tournaments, in addition to achieving the singles gold in the Olympic Games.
The Spaniard ended his astonishing career with four US Open titles, two each at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, along with 14 titles in France.
Often displaying mental strength to get out of difficult situations, he relied on endless stamina and a deadly, accurate forehand… Nadal was a ruthless machine.
Between 2005 and 2007 he achieved a streak of 81 consecutive victories on clay – the longest for a player on the same surface in modern times – which Federer ended in Hamburg.
During this series, he lifted 13 consecutive titles on his favorite ground, and crowned his career with 92 titles in total.
Between 2005 and 2014, he won the Roland Garros title every year except for 2009, when he fell in the fourth round to Swede Robin Soderling, runner-up to Federer in the final.
Despite several injuries that hampered his career in many cases, he continued to shine and won the Australian Open and Roland Garros 2022 titles. In the same year, he reached the Wimbledon semi-finals before he was forced to withdraw before the semi-finals due to abdominal pain.
“The older he gets, the more determined he is to change his playing style and act more with the ball, with some peeled hits, dropped balls and serves with direct access to the net,” said Swedish Mats Wilander, who won seven major titles in May 2022.
He continued, “He and Novak are getting smarter on the field… They never stop learning, it’s unbelievable.”
– The greatest – Nadal is considered by some to be the greatest of all time –
Although there is controversy on this issue along with his rival and eternal friend Federer and Djokovic.
Russian Maria Sharapova, Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka and Polish Iga Świentek, among other players, considered him the best ever.
Nadal’s main concern was to be remembered as a good man and player rather than worrying about his place among the tennis giants.
“The important legacy is that all the people I met during these 20 years have a good human memory of me,” he asserts.
And he continues, “In the end, personal matters, education, respect and affection with which you treat people come before professional matters; Because that is what remains.