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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 greats of tennis. In 2008, he achieved an unprecedented treble, winning the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic gold. Eight years later in Rio he carried the Spanish flag before winning men’s doubles gold with his friend Marc Lopez.
Born in Manacor on the island of Majorca on 3 June 1986, Rafael Nadal has been one of the leading lights of the tennis world since 2005. In winning a record tenth French Open title in June 2017, the Spaniard took his total number of Grand Slam tournament victories to 15, having become one of the few players to win all four events (the Australian Open, the French, Wimbledon and the US Open).
Ranked world No1 on various occasions throughout his career, Nadal’s 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 (the other members of the so-called “Big Four”) have become the stuff of legend.
Under the wing of his uncle, Toni Nadal, Rafa has earned a reputation as much for his sense of sportsmanship and fair play, as for his devastating topspin forehand and wall-like defensive game, which have made him one of the best returners of serve in the world
A truly global sports star, Nadal was clearly inspired by the chance to compete at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. Much admired by his fellow athletes, he was often seen signing autographs in the Olympic Village, where he stayed with the rest of the Spanish team.
He had arrived in the Chinese capital having secured his fourth French Open title and claimed a maiden Wimbledon triumph, defeating his arch rival Roger Federer on both occasions. Offering further proof that it really was his year, Nadal crushed opponent after opponent on the hard courts of Beijing’s Olympic Park before overpowering Djokovic in the semi-final.
He then defeated Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez to take gold and become 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 the Olympic title). To cap it all, in the week following his Olympic triumph, the Spaniard climbed to the top of the world rankings for the first time in his career.
It was with a heavy heart that Nadal was forced to withdraw from London 2012, where he was due to carry the flag for the Spanish delegation at the Opening Ceremony. After being diagnosed with tendinitis of the knee, he spent seven long months recovering on the sidelines.
The undisputed ‘King of Clay’ completed a breathtaking comeback in 2013, winning an eighth French Open title and becoming the first player in the Open Era to achieve such a tally at a single Grand Slam tournament.
Nadal won the US Open for a third time that September and then made it nine French Open crowns – his 14th Grand Slam title – the following year.
Laid low by injuries, not least to his wrist, Nadal failed to add to that haul in 2015 and 2016, a year in which he was forced to withdraw from the French after the second round and pull out of Wimbledon.
He returned to action just in time to carry the Spanish flag at the Opening Ceremony of Rio 2016, where he went on to win a second Olympic gold, alongside Marc Lopez in the men’s doubles, a medal clinched after a marathon three-set win over Romania’s Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea in the final.
“It’s been an amazing experience and a privilege to be able to share this moment with one of my best friends. It’s unforgettable for Mark and I,” said an emotional Nadal. “Winning the gold medal after two and a half months without any tennis, without any preparation apart from working on my fitness in the gym, is a real dream come true. It feels incredible and we’re absolutely thrilled. We’ve fought really hard for this too.”
Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro ended Nadal’s bid for singles gold in a titanic semi-final, with the Spaniard then losing out to Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the battle for bronze.
“Collecting the gold and hearing the Spanish national anthem after the doubles with one of my best friends was unforgettable for me,” continued Nadal. “I hope to be at Tokyo 2020 but I have to be realistic. I’ve already had a long career and I’ve been in the Top 100 for many years.”