Rafael Nadal: King of the Clay

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Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal is recognised as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. He has earned total prize money of $98 million during his career, ranking him as the third highest-earning tennis player in history.

Rafel

© Charlie Cowins / CC BY 2.0

In the past 12 months alone, he has won $14.4 million and has endorsements with major sponsors, such as Nike and Kia Motors. He also opened his own successful tennis academy in Manacor, his hometown in Spain, in 2016.

Nadal has won more than 850 career matches, including 11 men’s singles victories in the Roland Garros championship – making him the French Open record-holder for the most titles won at a single tournament. He has also won two Wimbledon titles, three US Open titles in 2010, 2013 and 2017 and the Australian Open in 2009.

Narrowly missing out on his second Australian Open title in January 2019, he reached the final and despite his forehand being “on fire”, according to commentators, he was beaten in three sets by Novak Djokovic.

He has earned the title the “King of Clay” because since he exploded on to the professional scene, he has always played particularly well on clay. The French Open, where Nadal has had his record 11 wins, uses clay courts – a unique feature among the Grand Slam tournaments.

 

Early life

Nadal was born in the town of Manacor, on the Balearic island of Mallorca in Spain, in June 1986. He comes from a sporty family, as his uncle, Miguel Ángel Nadal, is a former professional footballer, who played for FC Barcelona, RCD Mallorca and the Spanish national team.

His uncle, Toni Nadal, is a keen sportsman, who excelled at football, table tennis and swimming in his youth. The Balearic Islands’ junior table tennis champion started playing tennis at 14, after feeling inspired by watching Ilie Năstase winning the Barcelona Masters in 1972.

Toni went on to become a tennis coach – he took his nephew Rafael under his wing when he first picked up a racket at only three years old. When he was eight, Rafael won the under-12s’ regional tennis championship. He was also a talented football player at the time, but Toni intensified his nephew’s tennis training after his win.

At 12, Rafael won his age group’s European and Spanish tennis tournaments, while continuing to play football. Eventually, he had to choose between the two sports and went for tennis.

 

Career milestones

After turning professional at the age of 15 in 2001, Nadal won his first ATP match, becoming only the ninth player in the Open Era to achieve this honour before the age of 16. He was ranked 762nd in the world at the time. This was to be the start of his 18-year career to date as a leading tennis player.

In 2005, he dominated the clay court season, winning 24 consecutive singles matches. He defeated Roger Federer in the 2005 French Open semi-final and became one of only four players who had triumphed over the top seed that season.

Beating Leyton Hewitt in the third round of the 2009 French Open, Nadal set a new record of 31 consecutive wins at the tournament, beating Bjorn Borg’s long-standing record of 28 consecutive wins.

In 2017, Nadal’s victories at the French Open and US Open won him more than $6 million in prize money for the two championships alone. In 2018, he was the 20th highest paid athlete in the world across all sports and was number 72 in Forbes’ list of the top 100 celebrities in the same year.

Nadal come back to reach the final of the Australian Open in January 2019. He had dropped out of the US Open in 2018 due to injury, but while at home recuperating, he opened his tennis centre to flood victims in October 2018, donating €1 million to help rebuild the town of Sant Llorenç des Cardassar, which had been worst hit by the floods on the island of Mallorca.

Unfortunately, Nadal had to pull out of a semi-final clash against Federer on 16th March at the 2019 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis garden due to a knee injury. He is currently recuperating and is due to play again at the Monte-Carlo Masters on clay – the tournament runs from 13th to 21st April. Nadal has already announced his intention to play and says he “doesn’t have doubts” that he will be ready to come back from his injury.

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