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. The two years spanning 2006-2007 marked the domination of Nadal on clay courts. In early 2006, he had some physical problems, but in late February, he won his third title on hard-court. He confirmed his dominance in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and then won his second French Open, beating Roger Federer in the final.
The Spaniard beat his rival also in Dubai, Monte-Carlo and Rome. On clay, he proved to be stronger than the Swiss Maestro. But not so much on Wimbledon's lawns, where he improved his performance by reaching the final, but then lost to his nemesis.
Nadal also lost the final of the ATP Finals against Roger. The start of 2007 was disappointing, but his first Indian Wells title against Novak Djokovic charged him for the clay swing. Once again Rafa won Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and then triumphed again at the French Open.
On 12 May 2007, Nadal got for himse the record of consecutive victories on the same surface, beating Nikolay Davydenko in Rome. That year, however, Rafa lost a match on clay against Federer in Hamburg for the first time. Their rivalry culminated at Wimbledon: Federer won in five sets, but his opponent's progress on a surface not suited to him was incredible.
In 2006 and 2007, Nadal won a total of 11 titles and two Slams, showing clear progress on fast surfaces. 2008 was a simply top year. He won Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Hamburg and French Open, beating Federer three more times, including in the Paris final.
In June, he won his first title on grass at Queen's against Djokovic. In July, he reached the third consecutive final at Wimbledon. For the first time, the pupil surpassed the master: Nadal defeated Federer in five exciting sets, in one of the best matches ever, winning his first title at the All England Club.
"My best win? At Wimbledon 2008," said Rafa some time later. "Immediately after the 2008 Wimbledon final it was a tragic situation for me. I went back to the hotel to eat some pizza, even though I was discouraged.
Only after that did I begin to see beyond defeat and accept that the world had fallen in love with me as an athlete even in a moment of disappointment. I have had even more support since 2008. They wanted to see me win again," said Federer in an interview in 2014.
Even uncle Toni Nadal talked about that match, a few weeks ago: "That victory certainly gave even more value to Rafa's career that conquered Wimbledon by beating Roger Federer on grass. In this season Nadal could match or even break the Slam record of Roger Federer with the Swiss who currently leads with 20 Slams."
In 2008, Nadal also won his first Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Three curiosities. The first, again in 2008: The Majorcan astronomical observatory dedicated an asteroid to Rafa, known as 128036 Rafaelnadal, and in the same year, Nadal founded a charity association bearing his name, the Rafa Nadal Foundation.
Also in 2008, he was the first male tennis player to win the Prince of Asturias Award for his sporting merits, after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Steffi Graf and Martina Navrátilová. A magical year, indeed.