Rafael Nadal will bid to clinch a 20th Grand Slam title when he heads to New York to compete in the US Open on August 31. Victory would see him equal Roger Federer’s record and bolster his reputation as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. These are the top 10 magical moments of his career so far:
10. Miami Masters, 2004
A 17-year-old Nadal beat Federer in straight sets when they first locked horns in Miami back in 2004. The Spaniard was an unknown quantity back then, whereas Federer already had two Grand Slams under his belt, so the result sent shockwaves through the men’s game. It also kicked off one of the greatest rivalries in sporting history, with Nadal currently leading 24-16 in the head-to-heads.
9. French Open, 2005
Nadal seized his first Grand Slam at Roland-Garros the following year. He carried a great deal of momentum into the tournament after winning the Monte Carlo Masters and the Rome Masters. That saw him soar up to number five in the world rankings, and he then blazed a trail of destruction throughout the French Open. On his 19th birthday, he swept aside Federer in the semi-finals, and then he defeated Mariano Puerta in the final two days later. Nadal won 24 consecutive singles matches in total, breaking Andre Agassi’s Open era record, and reached a career high number three in the world rankings.
8. French Open, 2012
Nadal was aiming for a record-breaking seventh French Open title when he headed to Paris in 2012. He dropped just 30 games against his first five opponents to ease into the semi-finals, where he dismantled Federer to set up a final showdown with Novak Djokovic. Nadal won the first two sets, but the Serbian star rallied and took the third 6-2. Djokovic was 2-1 up in the fourth set and had won eight of the previous nine games when the match was rained off. It was eventually pushed back to the Monday, and Nadal emerged rejuvenated, securing a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 win and surpassing Bjorn Borg’s record with his seventh Coupe des Mousquetaires.
7. Beijing Olympics, 2008
Nadal won a gold medal for Spain when competing at the Olympic Games in Beijing. It came just after he rose to number one in the world rankings for the first time, ending Federer’s four-and-a-half year reign at the top. He beat Djokovic to tee up a final against Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, and he won it 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
6. US Open, 2010
Nadal completed the career Grand Slam when he won his first US Open title in 2010. He reached the final without dropping a single set. The final pitted him against Djokovic once again, and Nadal won it in four sets. It capped one of the greatest years a tennis player has ever produced, as Nadal won three of the available four slams. He also became just the second player to complete the career Golden Slam – all four Grand Slams plus Olympic gold.
5. Australian Open, 2009
Nadal won his first Grand Slam on a hard court in 2009. The highlight came in the semi-finals, when he locked horns with compatriot Fernando Verdasco. This was peak Verdasco and he tore Nadal apart for large periods of the match, but Nadal stayed in contention with an array of remarkable defensive shots. He somehow came through the match and emerged with a 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 victory over his Davis Cup teammate after they spent 5 hours and 14 minutes on court. It was the longest singles match in Australian Open history, and Nadal should have been run ragged when he faced Federer in the final. Yet his phenomenal athleticism shone through once again, and he defeated the Swiss maestro 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 in another epic five-set contest.
4. French Open, 2019
The great man wrapped up an astonishing 12th French Open title when he beat the talented Dominic Thiem last year. It saw him surpass Margaret Court’s record and become the most dominant player at a single Grand Slam in history. He is a common favorite at Roland-Garros due to his extraordinary record there: 93 wins and just two defeats in his French Open career. The tournament will take place from September 20 to October 4 this year, just after the US Open, and Nadal will be the heavy favorite to clinch a 13th title.
3. Wimbledon, 2008
Nadal had been pigeonholed as a clay court specialist by the time he arrived at the All-England Club in 2008. He already had four French Open titles to his name, but he had never prevailed at a Grand Slam on another surface. He has lost to Federer in the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals, and the Swiss was the favorite to make it a hat-trick. Yet Nadal was on a 23-match winning streak, so it was billed as the most eagerly anticipate match of their rivalry. They played out the longest final in Wimbledon history, and Nadal ultimately won the final set 9-7 in near darkness after 4 hours and 48 minutes on court, cementing his status as an all-time great.
2. US Open, 2017
Nadal was written off as a washed-up player at the start of 2017. He had not won a Grand Slam in three years and injuries looked set to bring his career to a premature end. Yet he roared back to life with victory at Roland-Garros that year. His defeat in the last 16 at Wimbledon was painful, but he jetted to New York with newfound belief. Few expected him to actually triumph, but Nadal rolled back the years, laid waste to his opponents ,and beat Kevin Anderson in the final. Nadal returned to the top of the world rankings for the first time in years, and suddenly Federer’s record was within touching distance.
1. US Open, 2019
Nadal’s crowning glory came when he won a fourth US Open title at the ripe old age of 33. 12 of his 19 Grand Slams have come at Roland-Garros, but he can no longer be simply referred to as a clay court specialist thanks to his string of triumphs at Flushing Meadows. He only dropped one set en route to the final, where he prevailed in a five-set classic against the much younger Daniil Medvedev, digging deep and displaying his customary determination and never-say-die attitude to get the job done. He is now on the brink of becoming the most decorated player the men’s game has ever seen, and he has more than enough quality to seize the record.
Main Photo from Getty.