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Rafael Nadal: Opportunity Lost To Be The Best Tennis Player Ever?
Who Will Break Roger Federer's Dominance?
Over the turn of the century, Roger Federer's dominance on the men's tennis circuit could only be matched by Sebastian Loeb's firm grip on the World Rally Championship. With the likes ofAgassi Andre and Andy Roddick reaching the tail-end of their careers, Federer established himself as the player to beat at every tournament he took part in. With tennis becoming a one-man show, fans were crying out for some credible competition for, probably, tennis' greatest and most elegant competitor.
In 2004, Federer came up against a young gifted 17yr old Spaniard in the Miami Masters. He lost his first match against a young Rafael Nadal and ignited a rivalry that would be one of the greatest in the Open era of tennis. Roger Federer had finally found a competitor who could challenge his dominance.
The Open Era
Describes the period after 1968 when the major grand slams became open to both amateur and professional tennis players and any one could compete for the titles. Roland Garros was the first grand slam to become 'open'.
The Left-handed Maestro With A Two-handed Backhand
Coming from a multi-talented family, Rafael Nadal's success as an athlete was assured at a very young age. Even though he was born to Sebastián Nadal (a businessman) and Ana María Parera (a housewife), Nadal seemed to have inherited his sporting gene from his uncles.
His uncle, Toni Nadal, was a former professional tennis while Miguel Ángel Nadal was a successful footballer - having played for Barcelona, Real Mallorca and appeared 62 times for the Spanish national team. It is thus not surprising that Rafael Nadal showed quite a lot of promise in both sports.
Toni Nadal, having introduced him to tennis at the age of three, encouraged Nadal's lefthand play which gave him a natural advantage on the court. Due to deteriorating schoolwork, Nadal's father gave him an ultimatum - football or tennis. He chose tennis and turned professional at 15. At the time, Nadal was becoming a force to be reckoned with after having already;
- won an under-12 regional championship at age 8
- won both the Spanish and European titles of his age group at 12.
- at 14, he refused a chance to train in Barcelona under a full scholarship from the Spanish tennis federation. His father had to foot most his bill.
Also known as The French Open, Roland Garros is the premier clay court event of the year. A second of four annual grand slam tournaments, the event was founded in 1891 and is named after the French aviator, Roland Garros. Held between late May and early June, the clay court event usually marks the end of the spring clay court season. It is also thought to be the most gruelling of the four grand slams; mostly due to the slow playing surface that takes a toll on players.
The King Of Clay
At 15, the talented Spaniard participated in his first two ITV junior circuit events. He won his first ATP match against Ramón Delgado before his 16th birthday; becoming only the ninth player in the open era to achieve such a feat.
But it was in 2004, and at the age of 17 that young Nadal made a major mark on the international circuit by knocking out Federer from the Miami Masters during their first encounter. The Spanish maestro eclipsed that milestone, at age 19, by accomplishing what had eluded most at Roland Garros (French Open) in over 20 years - winning the title at his first attempt!
This proved to be the beginning of a hugely successful romance with tennis' most prestigious clay court event. The slow clay surface and high bounce of the ball proved to be huge advantage for Nadal and his two-handed backhand; a fact supported by his eight titles in nine attempts.
His exploits on clay, whether at Roland Garros or most other clay surfaces, have deservedly earned the title of 'The King Of Clay'.
Major Tournament Wins
2005 - 2008 & 2010 - 2013
2008 & 2010
2010 & 2013
2005 - 2012
2004, 2008, 2009 & 2011
Beyond The Clay Court
Rafael Nadal's exploits on clay hide the fact that he can more than hold his own when it comes to the other two tennis surfaces - grass and hard courts.
The fear that he could only dominate on clay was dispelled when he won on the grass court of Wimbledon in 2008. A second title in 2010 proved that his first triumph was definitely no fluke.
Moreover, Nadal added the Australian Open to his ever expanding trophy cabinet in 2009. In 2010, finally, Nadal cemented his place among tennis' greats by completing a career grand slam at the US Open.
The Spaniard is now one Australian Open win away from completing a double career grand slam win; that is, after winning the 2013 US Open title. He missed the 2013 Australian Open with an injury - not for the first time - but will hopefully be fit for next year's.
4 Wins To The Top...5 To Be The Best?
With 13 Grand Slam titles, Nadal is just four wins away from challenging for the title of the best ever male tennis player. However, Nadal may have to overcome a few hiccups,
- his injury-prone body that has seen him miss a significant number of major tournaments.
- Roger Federer's ability to compete even at the twilight of his career.
- the ever consistent Novak Djokovic.
- the ever improving Andy Murray.
- an ambitious and talented wild-card from nowhere.
Having won the final slam of 2013, Rafael Nadal certainly has the momentum on his side. That is, if he can consistently start the tennis season injury free...and Federer decides his finally had enough success!
Major Standalone Records
You definitely don't achieve what Rafa has without setting a few records along the was,
- won 8 titles each at the French Open, Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open.
- at 24, youngest player to achieve a Career Grand Slam.
- only player to win Grand Slam on first attempt.
- only player to win all three clay court Masters events in the same year.
- only player to complete a Clay Slam: French Open, Monte Carlo Masters, Madrid Masters and Barcelona Open.
- first man to win at least one of the four Grand Slam each year for 9 consecutive years.
Along with Andre Agassi, Nadal is the only player to have completed a Career Golden Slam which includes the four Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold medal.