Feliz Cumpleanos Rafa! (Happy Birthday Rafa)

Rafael Nadal, born on this day in 1986, turns 31 today. The Spanish tennis Star has won a record nine French Open titles and is one of only two men to claim all four Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold medal.

The Nadal Beginning

Rafael Nadal took to tennis when he was just 3 years old, guided by his uncle Toni Nadal, who spotted potential for the sport within him from an early age. In 1994, Nadal won an under-12 regional Tennis crown and this prompted his uncle to increase the level of his training. It was Toni, who urged his nephew to start playing left-handed.

Four years later, Rafa won the Spanish and European tennis title in his age group. At the age of 15, Nadal turned professional. The very next year he made it till the semi-final of the Wimbledon in the boys’ singles section. At 17 years old, he became the youngest participant since Boris Becker to reach the third round of the All-England event when he reached the third round of the 2003 Wimbledon.

First French Open

Nadal, in 2005 at the age of 19, won the first French Open of his career and he did it in his first attempt. He quickly catapulted himself to the ranking of World Number 13 while also collecting 11 other singles title in that calendar year. Eight of those 11 titles were on clay and he was aptly given the nickname of ‘King of Clay’. There have been very few instances where he has failed to match up to that nickname in his career till date.

Wrestling with enduring foot and shoulder injuries, Nadal was still able to win his second consecutive French Open in 2006 and then claimed four more singles title in the year. History repeated itself again the following year and Nadal was once again standing tall at the end of Roland Garros with a hat-trick of French Open victories to along with five other singles titles he won in that 12-month stretch.

2008 was a historic year in the career of the Spaniard. He took home his customary French Open title again but he also won the Wimbledon that year. Nadal defeated his greatest rival Roger Federer in the longest final in Wimbledon history to win his maiden Wimbledon title.

Gold in Olympics

A month or so later, Nadal made his mark on the global stage winning the Gold Medal in men’s singles competition at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Only the US Open has eluded him until this point which would make him one of the only two men to complete the Grand Slam and win an Olympic Gold Medal, which he ultimately went on to achieve.

Champion in Making

Renowned for his mental toughness, quickness, agility and powerful top spins, Nadal was one of the ‘Big Four’ of tennis along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for the next several years as the quarter ruled the men’s tennis world. Nadal became the World Number One in 2008 and won his first ever Australian Open title in 2009. In 2010, he won three of the four Grand Slams in the calendar year, French Open, Wimbledon and his US Open later in the year made him the second men’s tennis player to complete the career Grand Slam and the Olympic Gold Medal win.

In 2010, Rafael Nadal captained his Spanish Davis Cup to triumph for the fourth time but had to relinquish his World Number One ranking after falling to Novak Djokovic in the 2010 Wimbledon final. Nadal took some measure of revenge on his Serbian foe after defeating him at the Roland Garros next year claiming his record seventh French Open title.

In one of the biggest upsets in history of tennis, Rafael Nadal was eliminated from the Wimbledon by Czech Republic’s Lukas Rosol in the second round. In 2012, he pulled out from the Summer Olympic Games in London owing to knee tendinitis, an injury that would cost him several months of his career.

In a monumental comeback from his injury problems, Nadal won his eight French Open defeating compatriot David Ferrer in a straight sets victory. Nadal once again failed to follow up a French Open title win with a stronger performance at Wimbledon. He crashed out of the competition in a first round loss in straight sets to Belgium’s Steve Darcis. Despite speculation surrounding his health and form, Nadal bounced back later in the year when he beat Novak Djokovic to win his second ever US Open crown. The win once again perched him at the summit of men’s tennis rankings.

Nadal The Champion

In 2014, Nadal won his astonishing ninth French Open Championship, toppling Djokovic in four sets. It was the Spaniard’s 14th Grand Slam triumph which tied Pete Sampras for second in history behind only 17 by Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal lost to Tomas Berdych in the last eight of the 2015 Australian Open when he was simply overpowered by his adversary. In a major surprise, Nadal fell to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the French Open. It was Nadal’s first defeat at Roland Garros since 2009 and only second of his career.

Credit – Getty Images

2015 was a forgettable year for Rafa as he failed to win a single Grand Slam title, stumbling down to Dustin Brown in second round at the Wimbledon and then losing to Fabio Fognini in the third round of the US Open. It was first time since 2005 that Nadal was unable to claim at least one Grand Slam victory.

In 2016, he opened with a first round loss in the Australian Open but recovered for win titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Unfortunately, a recurring wrist injury forced Nadal to withdraw from his favorite French Open after two rounds. He tasted the success of an Olympic gold yet again winning the men’s doubles event with Marc Lopez.

In 2017, after couple of years of nagging injuries, he reached the finals of the Australian Open where he was met his greatest ever rival Roger Federer. The two turned back the clock in their match which went down to the wire and Nadal was defeated by Federer. Right now, Nadal is on a quest to win an unprecedented tenth French Open title as he has battled through the early rounds to advance to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros.