The Number Ones

Rafael Nadal: The Ultimate Competitor

The Spaniard has achieved success at the top level for more than a decade

October 02, 2020
Rafael Nadal beat Nicolas Lapentti in the 2008 Western & Southern Open quarter-finals to guarantee his rise to No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal beat Nicolas Lapentti in the 2008 Western & Southern Open quarter-finals to guarantee his rise to No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings. By Tom Allen

As a part of a series highlighting all players to reach World No. 1, profiles Rafael Nadal.View Series.

First week at No. 1: 18 August 2008
Total weeks at No. 1: 209
Year-End No. 1s: 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019

At World No. 1
After spending a record 160 consecutive weeks at No. 2 in the PIF ATP Rankings, Nadal overtook Roger Federer to become World No. 1 for the first time on 18 August 2008. “I had three-and-a-half good years – 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008,” said Nadal. “I was winning a lot of points every year, but there was a player that was winning more than me in Roger… I believed I deserved it after playing at a high level for many weeks.” Nadal’s rise to the summit of the men’s game capped a memorable four-month run, with the Spaniard winning eight titles from 10 tournament appearances between Monte Carlo and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Nadal has finished five ATP Tour seasons as year-end World No. 1 and, in 2019, he became the oldest year-end World No. 1 in the history of the PIF ATP Rankings (since 1973). Nadal owns a 174-34 record as World No. 1, with 15 wins from 27 final appearances.

Grand Slam Highlights
Nadal has lifted 19 major championships and is the only man in history to win 12 singles titles at the same Grand Slam event (Roland Garros). Dressed in his signature sleeveless shirts and three-quarter length shorts, a 19-year-old Nadal claimed the first of four consecutive trophies in Paris on his tournament debut in 2005. The Spaniard owns a 96-2 record (as of 2 October) at the clay-court Grand Slam. Often referred to as ‘The King Of Clay’ in his earlier years on the ATP Tour, Nadal soon proved his abilities on other surfaces. In 2008, the 22-year-old overcame Roger Federer in one of the greatest matches of all-time to win his first of two Wimbledon crowns (2008, 2010) and also outlasted the Swiss in five sets to claim the 2009 Australian Open trophy. At the age of 24, Nadal became the seventh man to complete the Career Grand Slam at the 2010 US Open. Nadal is a four-time champion at the final major championship of the year, having also triumphed in New York in 2013, 2017 and 2019.


Nitto ATP Finals Highlights
Nadal owns the record for most consecutive Nitto ATP Finals qualifications, having booked his place at the elite eight-man event for the 16th consecutive year in 2020. At the age of 19, Nadal beat Nikolay Davydenko and Tommy Robredo on his tournament debut in 2005 to reach the semi-finals in Shanghai. He has finished as runner-up on two occasions, falling to fellow 'Big Three' members Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2013. Overall, he owns an 18-14 tournament record.

ATP Masters 1000 Highlights
Nadal has excelled at Masters 1000 events since his debut at the level in 2003, when he stunned reigning Roland Garros titlist Albert Costa en route to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters third round. The Spaniard owns 35 Masters 1000 trophies and holds title records at each of the three clay-court Masters 1000 tournaments with 11 trophies in Monte Carlo, nine Rome crowns and five Madrid championship victories. Nadal also owns nine hard-court Masters 1000 titles, with a tournament record five trophies in Canada, three title runs in Indian Wells and a single tournament victory in Cincinnati (2013). In 2008, he also triumphed on clay in Hamburg.

Biggest Rivalries
As a member of the ‘Big Three’, Nadal has contested two major rivalries throughout his career on the ATP Tour.

With 40 PIF ATP Head2Head clashes (Nadal leads 24-16), Nadal and Federer have captivated sports fans across the world since 2004 with their contrasting styles of play. The pair has met in 24 championship matches with Nadal owning a 14-10 record, including six wins from a record nine meetings in Grand Slam finals. Nadal and Federer’s rivalry continues to grow among fans and the media, as both players aim to add to their Grand Slam résumés. The two men currently occupy the top two positions in the Grand Slam titles leader board, with 20-time winner Federer narrowly ahead of 19-time major champion Nadal. Between 2005 and 2010, Federer and Nadal finished each ATP Tour season as the Top 2 players in the PIF ATP Rankings.

“It’s the combination of two different styles that makes the matches really special,” said Nadal. “Both of us have a different way to play tennis [and have] a lot of good success with these two different styles. I feel that this rivalry goes not only in the tennis world. People from outside of our world talk about it and that's good for our sport.”

With 55 meetings, Nadal and Djokovic have established the longest ATP Head2Head rivalry in the Open Era (Djokovic leads 29-26). The two men produced the standout rivalry of the past decade, when they contested championship matches at each of the four Grand Slam events (tied at 4-4), the Nitto ATP Finals and five Masters 1000 tournaments. Across the past 12 ATP Tour seasons, one of Nadal and Djokovic has finished as year-end World No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings on 10 occasions.

“What we achieved in the Grand Slams, in tennis in general, during the past 14, 15 years is something special,” said Nadal. “To have three players that achieved that much in the same moment is something difficult to repeat. But here we are.”

One of the greatest players in history, driven by a brutal competitive spirit. Nadal’s mantra of treating every point and opponent with the same intensity has earned the Mallorcan 85 tour-level trophies. With great defensive skill and one of the most feared forehands in the history of the sport, Nadal’s game has proven most effective through the years on clay. On the surface, he owns the record winning percentage (91.6%) and number of tour-level trophies (59). But Nadal has proven his abilities across all surfaces, as one of just eight men to have completed the Career Grand Slam. The Spaniard, who has captured Olympic gold medals for his country in singles (2008) and doubles (2016), owns the greatest winning percentage in the history of the sport (83.2%). Alongside rivals Federer and Djokovic, Nadal has lifted the profile of tennis to new heights and brought new fans into the sport during the 'Big Three' era.

Overall Match Win-Loss Record: 994-201 (as of 1 October, 2020)
Overall Titles/Finals Record: 85-37

Memorable Moment
After runner-up finishes to Federer in 2006 and 2007, Nadal claimed his maiden Wimbledon title against the five-time defending champion in the most dramatic fashion. Just four weeks after breezing past the Swiss to lift his fourth straight Roland Garros trophy, Nadal charged into a 6-4, 6-4 lead on Centre Court before rain stopped play late in the third set. After losing the third set, Federer saved two championship points to force the match to a deciding set. Following a second rain delay, Nadal eventually broke through at 7-7 to serve for the title. On his fourth championship point, at 9:15pm local time, Nadal fell to the ground after Federer fired a cross-court forehand into the net. "It is a dream to play on this court, my favourite tournament, but to win I never imagined,” said Nadal. After greeting his rival at the net, Nadal climbed into the players’ box to celebrate with his family and friends, before marching across a commentary box roof to greet Crown Prince Felipe, the then-heir to the Spanish throne, and his wife, Princess Letizia in the Royal Box.

<a href=''>Rafael Nadal</a> defeats <a href=''>Roger Federer</a> in five sets to capture his maiden <a href=''>Wimbledon</a> title in 2008.

Federer on Nadal
"I think he made me a better player. The way his game stacks up with me, it’s a tricky one. It remains for me the ultimate challenge to play against him."

Djokovic on Nadal
"Some matches that we had against each other were a great turning point in my career. I feel they have made me rethink my game. I had some disappointing moments where I lost to him… I won also some great matches.

"Those kind of encounters have also made me the player I am today, without a doubt. These are the kind of matches that you live for, finals of Slams, playing the greatest rivals at their best. What more can you ask for? This is where you want to be."

Nadal on Nadal
“Winning matches and winning titles is important, but as I’ve said all my career, when the press sometimes ask me how I’d like to be remembered, I’d like to be remembered as a good person, more than a good tennis player. I’ve worked hard all my tennis career to be under good self-control, with the right attitude every single point, fighting to the end and also respecting every single opponent.”

Broadcaster/Journalist Graeme Agars
Nadal, even before his career is over, is a giant of the game and has without question established himself as the all-time greatest player on clay. His powerful physique, legendary determination and competitive spirit, combined with the heavy top spin from both sides, has made him almost unbeatable on the dirt throughout his career.

Nadal has also found a way to translate that game to all other surfaces as well. Even though clay is clearly his best surface, the Spaniard is hard to beat every time he tosses up a serve, as his stunning record clearly demonstrates.

A considerate and popular star of the game, Nadal is a meticulous performer on both the practice and competition court with a number of well-defined mannerisms that stamp his every appearance. They range from a complicated pre-serve series of motions to the precise placing of his drinks bottles at his player chair.

Nadal’s off-court achievements match his stellar on-court accomplishments. The 34-year-old has received, among many awards, the Spanish Gold Medal, the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award (2011) and the Sportsman of the Year award at the Laureus World Sports Awards (2011). Nadal is also a three-time winner of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion has also established Rafa Nadal Academies in a variety of countries around the world including his showpiece Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca, which offers high-level tennis training, education and residency.

Nadal has overcome a variety of injury problems during his career, including issues with his feet, ankles, knees, wrist and elbow, but still remains a tireless on-court performer that never gives less than 100 per cent.

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