There was once Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, and Roger Federer. Now there’s a new king of tennis and this time, he’s from Spain. He has been the no. 1 in tennis ranking for quite some time, and has slipped only now, thanks to a spate of injuries. His astonishing track record on clay courts have earned him the nickname of “King of Clay”. Such is his dominance on clay that many experts have been saying he is the best clay court player ever. He is none other than the swashbuckling Rafael Nadal.
He was born in Majorca, Spain to Sebastien Nadal and Ana-Marie Perera in 1986. Nadal’s natural talent for tennis was spottted by his uncle, Toni Nadal, at a very young age. Rafael was introduced to tennis when he was only three years of age. It’s a little known fact that he was also a promising football player. He won the under-12 regional tennis tournament when he was only 8 years of age. When he was about 13 years of age, he was playing football and tennis equally well. But in order to see that his studies were not hampered, his father asked him to choose between the two. He promptly chose tennis, which meant football had to be totally stopped. At the age of 14, the National Federation offered to take Nadal to Barcelona to continue his training, but his family was opposed to it. Instead, he continued his training from home. At the age of 15, he defeated Pat Cash, a former Grand Slam champion in an exhibition match on a clay court.
He turned professional the same year, taking part in two junior ITF events. By the time he was 17, he had already defeated the defending world champion, Roger Federer, the first time they were pitted against each other. This is a feat that he would go on to repeat many more times, most significantly in the finals of the French Open. By defeating Federer, he had also become the youngest man to reach the third round at Wimbeldon. At the age of 19, Nadal won his first French Open title. Incidentally, it was also the fist time he had played at the Roland Garros. This was something that had not taken place in Paris in over 20 years. It was also one of the first indications of the clay court dominance that was to become synonymous with his name. Nadal has a trademark habit in which he bites the trophies he wins, expecting to leave his mark on them probably. This habit was picked up by him quite early in his career.
2005 was one of the turning points of his tennis career. He reached the 4th round of the Australian Open, but was defeated by Lleyton Hewitt, who went on to become runner up. The same year, he was defeated in the finals of the Miami Masters by Roger Federer. Following the two defeats, he totally dominated the clay court in the spring session. Since then, Nadal has won the French Open 6 times, four of which came consecutively.