Rafael Nadal from start to today. In this new column, we will explore the Spaniard's career, focusing our analysis in several stages not only on his victories and his records, but also on anecdotes, events that happened behind the scenes, and curiosities.
In short, the genesis of a champion. In the peaceful Manacor, on the island of Mallorca, Sebastián Nadal and Ana María Parera had a son, in 1986, to whom they gave the name Rafael. There is already a sportsman in their family, Miguel Ángel Nadal, defender of RCD Mallorca, Barcelona FC and the Spanish national soccer team.
Nobody could believe that another member of the Nadal family could surpass Miguel Angel's popularity. Instead Toni Nadal, Rafa's uncle, immediately noticed the great talent of his nephew when he was only three-years-old.
From that moment, Toni became Rafael's coach, and he was until 2017. At 12 years old, Nadal had to make a decisive choice for his career and his life: in fact, he practised both soccer and tennis. His father made him choose one of the two disciplines and Rafa chose tennis.
A choice also helped by his uncle Toni: at 8 years-old Rafael won a regional tournament for under-12s. He hit both forehand and backhand using both hands, but Toni said, "No professional player plays with two hands and we won't be the first, so you have to change."
Rafael began to use his left hand for forehand, although he is right-handed in life. At 14 years old, Nadal and his family chose to stay in Mallorca instead of accepting the transfer to Barcelona, offered by the Spanish Tennis Federation.
Toni Nadal said: "I don't want to believe that you have to go to America, or to other places to be a good athlete. You can also do it by staying at home." In May 2001 Rafael managed to defeat the ex-Wimbledon winner Pat Cash in an exhibition match on clay-courts, and he also won the gold medal at the Balearic Islands Games.
After the semifinal of Wimbledon Juniores 2002, Nadal played some futures and some Challenger, winning his first ATP match on 2002 April 29th, in Mallorca against the world no.81 Ramón Delgado. In 2003 Rafa won his first ATP Challenger, in Barletta.
Thanks to the good performances at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, he managed to enter the top-100 of the ATP ranking, despite the age: 16 years-old and 10 months! 2004 was the year of the first finals and the first ATP title.
Nadal won the Orange Warsaw Open, in Sopot in Poland, defeating José Acasuso in two sets. At the Miami Open Nadal faced Roger Federer for the first time: that was the first of the 40 unforgettable challenges between the two great rivals and friends.
On that occasion, Rafa won with a double 6-4. "Against Rafa, I couldn't find a way to defeat him, it was incredible, with his defence and all the rest. I knew he would win the Roland Garros at least once, maybe not twelve!
But surely one. You could have said: 'Yes, I think he can get strong!' He had a legendary career," said Roger Federer in a recent interview. His talent was innate, as was his earliness on the court, but nobody could imagine what would happen in 2005.