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Having first picked up a racket at the tender age of three, Rafael Nadal has gone on to become one of the all-time tennis greats. One of the pinnacles of his glittering career came in 2008, when he achieved an unprecedented treble, winning the French Open, Wimbledon and an Olympic gold.
Born in Manacor on the Balearic island of Majorca on 3 June 1986, Rafael Nadal has been one of the leading lights of the tennis world since 2005. He has won more French Open titles than any other player in history (eight and counting), and as of 2013, he had recorded a total of 12 Grand Slam victories. He is also one of the few players to win all four major tennis tournaments (the French Open, the Australian Open, the US Open and Wimbledon). Ranked World No 1 on various occasions in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, his rivalries at the top of the sport with Switzerland’s Roger Federer, and latterly with Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Great Britain’s Andy Murray have become the stuff of legends. Trained by his uncle, Toni Nadal, Rafa has earned a reputation as much for his sense of sportsmanship and fair play, as for his devastating lift and defensive ability, which have made him one of the best returners of serve in the world.
A truly global sports star, Rafael Nadal was clearly inspired by the chance to compete at the 2008 Olympic Games. Much admired by his fellow athletes, he was often to be sign signing autographs in the Olympic Village where he stayed alongside other members of the Spanish Olympic delegation. 2008 was truly the year of Rafa: by the time he headed to Beijing he had already secured his fourth French Open title at Roland Garros, before claiming a maiden Wimbledon triumph in London, defeating his arch rival Roger Federer on both occasions. Then, from 11 to 17 August, on the hard courts of Beijing’s Olympic Park, Nadal was completely dominant, as he crushed each of his opponents en route to a semi-final where he proved too strong for Novak Djokovic. In the final he defeated Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez to take the gold medal, and in doing so became only the second male singles player in history, after the USA’s Andre Agassi, to achieve the Career Golden Slam (all four Grand Slam events plus an Olympic gold). To cap it all, during the week following his Olympic triumph, the Spaniard was confirmed as number one in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
It was with a heavy heart that Nadal was forced to withdraw from the London 2012 Games, where he was due to act as flag-bearer for the Spanish delegation during the Opening Ceremony. After being diagnosed with tendinitis of the knee, he spent seven long months recuperating on the sidelines, but in 2013 he announced his comeback in breathtaking style. On 9 June, the undisputed ‘King of Clay’ claimed yet another French Open title, becoming the first player in history to win the same major tournament eight times.