Rafael Nadal of Spain broke into the Top 100 tennis players in the world for the first time as a precocious 16-year-old in April 2003. Within a month, he firmly announced his arrival in world tennis by beating former French Open champion and compatriot Carlos Moya, who was to be his coach years later, at the Hamburg Open.
Rafael Nadal has an enviable record across all surfaces:
Nearly two decades of unprecedented clay-court excellence, which broke all records on the surface, followed that famous win in Hamburg. During that period, Nadal won the French Open a mind-boggling 14 times, along with winning the Monte Carlo Masters 11 times, the Italian Open 10 times and the Madrid Open five times. Needless to say, the lethal topspin in his forehand and his fantastic court-coverage won him millions of fans worldwide.
Those numbers are unlikely to be surpassed ever. However, what they also manage to do is overshadow the Spaniard’s ability on other surfaces. He has won eight Majors and 10 Masters 1000 tournaments off clay, which is almost equivalent to what Pete Sampras managed off grass and more than the career tally of John McEnroe.
The point is that the clay-skew is apparent in Nadal’s career, but he remains a fantastic player on other surfaces as well. He also spent 209 weeks (a little more than four years) out of the last two decades as the world No. 1, which, while less than Novak Djokovic’s or Roger Federer’s numbers, is still quite exceptional.
The end might be near:
Nadal is going to be 37 in June and that is not quite the age in which a man is supposed to go through the grinds of professional tennis. He has subjected his body to a lot of pain in the last 20 years and now should be the time to sit back and rest on his laurels.
Nadal has missed the entire European clay swing so far and also withdrawn from the upcoming French Open owing to a recurrent hip injury. With the 2024 Paris Olympics scheduled to take place on the clay of Roland Garros, Nadal might want to give himself a chance to appear on it for one last time. His legacy, however, will remain unaffected either way.