Getting sports fans to decide who is the undisputed greatest professional athlete of all time has always been an impossible task. As this perennial argument rages on, one man whose name will certainly be thrown into the mix is the tennis legend, Rafael Nadal. A Spaniard, Nadal first took to the game of tennis at the tender age of four and won his first championship at the age of eight. He went pro seven years later and it has been a galore of titles, records, and astonishing achievements since then. The Mallorca native has won 19 grand slam titles, the second-most in history for a male tennis player, and 85 career singles titles overall.
He holds the record for the longest winning streak by a single player on a particular surface in the open era and has held sway as world number one for about a cumulative 42 months. A great percentage of Nadal’s wins and titles have come on the clay court surface and as such, he is now referred to as the king of clay. Despite all these achievements and titles, the player remains uncharacteristically humble and never fails to praise his relatives at any chance he gets. This is because of the unforgettable part they played in his rise to prominence.
How Uncle Toni Helped Shape Him Into a Tennis Star
Rafael Nadal Parera was born on the 3rd of June 1986 in Manacor, Mallorca, Spain. The tennis player is one of two children born to Ana María Parera (a homemaker) and Sebastián Nadal (a businessman who owns several companies). The other is a sister named Maria Isabel.
Growing up, Nadal’s family lived in close contact with their extended paternal relatives. These included three uncles who were all professional athletes: Miguel, who played professional football for clubs such as Barcelona, Mallorca, and the Spanish national team; Rafael, who played in the second division league in Spain; and Toni, who played pro tennis before going on to become a coach as well as the manager of a tennis club.
Given such a background, young Rafael naturally fell in love with sporting activities and his uncles encouraged him. Toni in particular gifted him a tennis racket when he was four and also proceeded to train him on the rudiments of the game. These training sessions started on an infrequent basis but turned to a routine as Rafael exhibited impressive passion and talent for his age. These traits made Toni realize he had a prodigy on his hands and he intensified the training sessions. All of his faith and hard work was rewarded when his nephew won his very first tournament, the under-12 regional tennis championship at the age of 8.
Toni Recurited Experienced Players to Train Nadal
Such early success could have made anyone to rest on their laurels and conclude that they had made it but not Toni. He continued to train Rafael and made improvements to his playing techniques (such as changing his two-handed forehand to a more advantageous forehand).
He also recruited more experienced players, including a former Spanish World No. 1, Carlos Moya, to work with Rafael and the young boy went on to win more age-grade tournaments in Spain as well as Europe. These feats spread Rafael’s fame throughout his motherland and also created a bit problem for him and his uncle.
The Spanish government wanted the young lad to relocate to a bigger city in order to have access to more funding and better facilities. Toni rejected this offer stating that one can become a good athlete from where ever they are and don’t necessarily have to go to “America” in order to achieve that. It has been about two decades since that statement was made and it has proven to be true. Right from his home town in Mallorca, Rafael Nadal has been able to dominate the world of tennis since he turned pro in 2001. The player has won numerous titles and set several records on the ATP Tour. All these have in turn fetched him awards and honors from far and wide.
Nadal Holds the Record for Most Titles at a Single Grand Slam Event
For the uninitiated, the grand slam tournaments are the most prestigious events in the tennis calendar and are regarded as the crowning point of every tennis player’s career. They are currently four in number, Australian Open, U.S. Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal has been able to triumph at all four of them.
The Mallorca native won his first grand slam title at the 2005 edition of the French Open, defeating Argentine player Mariano Puerta in the final to clinch the title. He was 19 years old at the time and made history as the first teenager to win a grand slam in more than a decade. He also became the second male player to win the French Open in just their second attempt. This victory did wonders for Nadal’s career but it wouldn’t be the last time he would triumph in Paris. The player has gone on to win 11 more French Open titles and now has 12 overall. He now holds the record as the tennis player with the most titles at a single grand slam tournament.
Rafael Nadal has also tasted success at the other grand tournaments but on a lower scale. He has won Wimbledon twice (2008 and 2010) and the Australian Open once (2009). He has also triumphed at the U.S. Open on four occasions (2010, 2013, 2017, and 2019). His 2019 U.S. Open victory brought his entire grand slam titles to 19, making him second to Roger Federer (20) in the men’s game.
His 35 ATP Masters 1000 Titles Has Been Matched by Only One Player
Rafael Nadal has also been quite prolific at the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, regarded as the third most prestigious event on the male ATP Calendar. Ever since he won his maiden Masters 1000 event at the 2005 edition of the Monte Carlo Masters, he has gone on to add 34 more for a total of 35.
They are the Hamburg Open (1), Indian Wells (3), Monte Carlo Masters (11x), Madrid Open (5x), Rogers Cup (5x), Rome Masters (9x), and Cincinnati Open (1). The Spaniard now shares the record for being the male player with the most Masters 1000 wins with Novak Djokovic. It must however be pointed out that he reached that mark a year before the Serbian player did so.
Asides the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam tournaments, Rafael Nadal has won a handful of other professional singles titles at the Stuttgart Open (3x), Mexican Open (3x), Hamburg (1), Buenos Aires Open (1), Doha Open (1), Beijing (1), and Sau Paulo (1). The player has also won the Barcelona Open an astonishing 11 times. This made him the undisputed master at that particular tourney and in recognition of this, the organizers renamed one of the stands after him in the year 2017.
Two Olympic Gold Medals and Multiple Davis Cup Victories Have Defined His National Team Career
Even though tennis is mostly known as an individual game, there are also opportunities for players to bring glory to their motherland and Nadal has seized every that has come his way. The Spaniard has won at least two Olympic gold medals for his country. The first medal came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he defeated Chilean player Fernando Gonzalez in the finals of the singles event.
Eight years later, at the 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Nadal once more triumphed. But this time, it was in the doubles tournament where he partnered with Marc Lopez to defeat the Romanian duo, Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau.
Rafa has also led his country to at least five Davis Cup titles. The first of these titles came in the year 2004 when the then 18 years and six months old defeated American player, Andy Roddick, to help his team secure a 3-2 victory over the United States of America.
In doing so, he set a record as being the youngest player to win a singles match in the history of the Davis Cup finals. It has been about 16 years since that historic feat and in the intervening period, Nadal has helped Spain win four more Davis Cup titles in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2019. He now holds the record for most singles victory in the tournament history having won 29 of his 30 matches.
His Philanthropic Initiatives Has Fetched Him Several Honors Like Spain’s Top Civilian Honor
It has been about three decades since Rafael Nadal first picked up a tennis racket and he has gone on to record impressive feats on the courts. Off the courts, he has also stood out with the various charitable initiatives he has embarked on. These initiatives are geared towards helping those in need as well as improving access to the game for youngsters who may wish to follow in his footsteps.
The main vehicle that Nadal uses for his charity initiatives is the Rafael Nadal Foundation which was established in 2008. The foundation has thus far opened tennis academies in about six countries including India, Mexico, Greece, Kuwait, Australia, and Spain. It also opened the doors to its facility in Spain for victims of flash floods in Mallorca in 2018. Nadal made a donation of €I million to support the victims. He also partnered with his great rival, Roger Federer, to donate $250,000 to assist victims of the Australian bushfire in 2020.
All these philanthropic efforts have not gone unnoticed and it has fetched Nadal several awards. They include the Arthur Ashe humanitarian award in 2011, Gold Medal for Merit in Work from the Spanish Prime Minister in 2015, Grand Vermeil Medal from the mayor of Paris in 2015, as well as an honorary doctorate from the European University of Madrid.
Nadal has also been awarded the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award (2010, 2018, and 2019), the ESPY award for best male international athlete (2008), BBC overseas sports personality of the year (2010), and Legend award by Spanish sports daily, Marca, in 2013. In addition to that, he has received the Laureus sports awards for Sportsman of the year (2011), Comeback of the year (2014), and Newcomer of the year (2006).
The King of Clay Is Happily Married to His Childhood Sweetheart, Maria Francisca Perello
Rafael Nadal is happily married to his long term girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello. Just like her man, Perello is not a big fan of publicity. She rather enjoys privacy and has stated that the celebrity world is not one she wants to be a part of.
This disposition makes it a bit difficult to know what the lady is up to but we do know a few facts. First, Perello also hails from Nadal’s hometown (Mallorca) and holds a business degree from a local Mallorca institution known as the University of the Balearic Islands.
She has worked at a sports marketing firm in London and now serves as a project director for her husband’s charity foundation.
Nadal’s Wife Met Him Through His Sister
Perello first got to know Rafa through his younger sister. As the story goes, she and Maria Isabel were school mates and good friends, so she often visited her at home. Perello also accompanied Maria to watch some of her brother’s tennis matches and they slowly became acquainted.
They officially commenced a relationship in 2005 and have remained together till date. Never one to seek the spotlight, Perello doesn’t attend much of her man’s matches but is happy to cheer him from home. This is because she wants to give him the space to focus on his play rather than worrying about her welfare. Another reason behind that is that she feels they will grate on each other’s nerves if they are together all the time.
This sentiment has certainly paid off as the two have been together for about 15 years and have also formalized their union. The couple got engaged in May 2018 and tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony held in October 2019.
The guest list featured about 350 attendees, including former Spanish king, Juan Carlos 1, and Hollywood star, Tom Hiddleston. The couple is now enjoying marital life and many are hoping that there would soon be an announcement of kids. This may however not take place so soon as Nadal hopes to have scaled back his career before welcoming kids. This is because traveling on tour isn’t conducive for kids and he also wants to be able to spend quality time with them.