Rafael Nadal, the undisputed star of Spanish tennis, was born in Manacor, Mallorca on June 03, 1986. His father Sebastian is a businessman managing his own restaurant and a window glass company whilst his mother Ana Maria is a housewife. Rafa, as he is nicknamed, developed his love for sports from his uncles. One of them is the retired soccer player Miguel Angel Nadal, known as the ‘The Beast of Barcelona,’ who played for RCD Mallorca, FC Barcelona and Spain’s national team in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. His other uncle and trainer, Toni Nadal, was a former Spanish tennis pro.
Rafa played both football and tennis until he was twelve, which was when he decided to concentrate on the latter. He was a talented midfielder when he played football and he could well have pursued that sport as a career. However, Uncle Toni, who has been his tennis coach ever since, advised him that he would achieve greater success in playing tennis. Now ranked as Number 2 in world male singles tennis, Rafa remains an avid fan of Spanish football, particularly of RCD Mallorca and Real Madrid. He is also a fan of fellow Spanish icon, F1 driver Fernando Alonso, who holds the record for being the youngest two-time Formula One World Champion (in 2005 and 2006).
Rafael Nadal is naturally right-handed, but he plays with his left as trained by his Uncle Toni, who advised that this would benefit his two-handed backhand. Uncle Toni was obviously right about a lot of things. Early in 2001, at only 14 years of age, Rafa played and won against Pat Cash in a last-minute clay-court match. He went professional at the age of 15, winning his first ATP match in 2002. By 2003, he was part of the World’s Top 50, winning two Challenger titles and scoring ATP’s Newcomer of the Year title. When he debuted at Wimbledon, he became the second-youngest player to reach the third round after Boris Becker in 1984.
A Star is Born
Nadal didn’t enjoy as much court-action in 2004 due to a stress fracture in his ankle. But he surprised the tennis world in 2005 with both a comeback and a breakthrough. The world finally took notice when the Spanish teenager forced local hero , Lleyton Hewitt, to five sets in the 2005 Australian Open. Since then, he has become a Grand Slam Champion winning the singles title of the French Open four times times on the run from 2005 to 2008.
It was at Roland Garros that he celebrated his 19th birthday by beating existing world number one, Roger Federer, in the semi-finals. He recorded 81 consecutive victories on clay courts between 2005 and 2007 when his winning streak was finally ended by Federer at the Hamburg Masters. Rafael Nadal has ranked as World Number Two since July 2005. He was only the third ever tennis player under the age of 20 to achieve that position following in the footsteps of Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg.
On clay Rafa is the undisputed number one in the world, however, grass courts proved to be a different matter. At Wimbledon in 2005 he went out in the 2nd round but incredibly reached the final the following year where he lost to reigning champion Roger Federer. In 2007 Federer won his 5th successive title against Nadal after a five set thriller and the two met again in 2008 when Rafa won one of the greatest ever grand slam finals.
In August 2008 Rafa won the gold medal in the men’s singles tournament at the Olympic Games in Beijing and was named the ATP’s world number one replacing Roger Federer who had been in the top ranking position for 237 weeks.
Aside from his Uncle Toni, Rafael Nadal credits some of his training to another tennis great and fellow Mallorcan, Carlos Moya. Moya was a mentor to Nadal in the earlier part of the younger player’s career and regularly played with him in practice matches. Nadal’s playing style is considered best-suited for clay courts, and his obvious dominance on this surface has led some to call him the ‘King of Clay.’ However, his determination to succeed on grass was rewarded with two runner up medals and a winners trophy at Wimbledon in 2008.
The strongest traits of his style include his two-handed backhand, his very powerful and accurate topspin groundstroke, and his amazing speed on the court. He also usually prefers playing from the deep court. Nadal is a very good defensive player. Because he is extremely agile, he makes hits on the run and makes offensive, winning strokes out of what looks like defensive counters.
Rafael Nadal is known for wearing his trademark Capri pants during matches, along with sleeveless shirts and bandanas. Initially teased for this fashion statement, Rafa has quickly earned the respect of the sports world with his outstanding performances, even receiving the Newcomer of the Year title from the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards.