Rafael Nadal stormed over his rivals in the spring of 2005 to grab titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros. The young Spaniard established himself as the second-best player in the world behind Roger Federer and remained in that position for over four years.
Meanwhile, Rafa improved his tennis on the other surfaces (competing in Wimbledon finals in 2006 and 2007), ready to fight against Roger for the ATP throne in 2008. Since the beginning of the season, the Spaniard had consistent results, reaching the final in Chennai and the semi-final at the Australian Open, backed by the last four appearances in Indian Wells and the final in Miami.
Rafa was above everyone else on clay again, conquering Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Hamburg, and Roland Garros. The Spaniard carried that form into grass and won his first trophies on the green surface at Queen's and Wimbledon in that epic final against Roger Federer.
With a solid draw, Rafa claimed the Masters 1000 event in Toronto and lost in the semi-final of Cincinnati after 32 consecutive wins, earning enough points to pass Federer on the list and become world no. 1 on Monday, August 18.
Before that, the Spaniard headed to Beijing as one of the favorites for the men's singles gold medal and delivered his best tennis yet again to win another significant title in that historic season. Nadal took down Novak Djokovic in three challenging sets in the semi-final after over two hours, facing Fernando Gonzalez in the gold medal clash.
After two hours and 23 minutes, Rafa toppled the Chilean (2004 doubles gold medalist and the winner of singles bronze) 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to embrace the Olympic glory and complete his outstanding performance in the previous few months, winning 38 out of 39 matches to become a well-deserved world no.
In Beijing 2008, Rafael Nadal defeated Fernando Gonzalez in three sets to win gold.
Nadal served well and repelled all four break points to keep his games intact. With that performance, he pushed Gonzalez to the limits on the second serve and created ten break chances, converting two to move over the top in straight sets.
The Chilean did his best to keep the points on his racquet and control the pace with flaming forehands, although it was not enough against the rival who defended well and stayed away from unforced errors. Fernando won the previous two clashes against Rafa on hard courts, including a notable win at the Australian Open 2007.
Still, he could not repeat that against an in-form rival who played career-best tennis. Nadal kicked off the encounter in a reliable fashion, taking eight of the first ten points and clinching a break in game two when Fernando's slice backhand landed long.
Gonzalez saved a set point in game eight with a fantastic forehand winner before Rafa brought the set home on his serve in the next one, sealing the deal with a forehand down the line winner for 6-3. Nadal faced no troubles on serve, absorbing the rival's forehands like no one else would and taking the most potent weapon out from the Chilean's hands to keep him under constant pressure.
Both players sailed through their service games in the second set, and they were heading towards the tie break when Nadal faced the first loose service game at 5-6. Gonzalez blasted a forehand winner to take a 40-15 lead in game 12, with two set points up for grabs.
Nonetheless, the Chilean missed a backhand volley on the first and an easy forehand on second, which sealed his fate in this encounter. Rafa closed the game with a forehand down the line winner to gain momentum ahead of the tie break that he won 7-2 when Fernando sent a forehand long.
Gonzalez fended off two break points in the third set's second game to avoid an early setback before Nadal broke him at love next time around to move 3-1 in front with a backhand crosscourt winner and march towards the finish line.
It was a one-man show in those moments, and Gonzalez could not do anything to stop the downfall, facing two more break points in game six but saving them to reduce the deficit and stay within one break. Suddenly, the Chilean got a chance to pull the break back after creating a couple of opportunities in the next game.
Rafa repelled them with a forehand and service winners and closed the game with two more direct points for a 5-2 advantage. Fernando erased three match points in game eight on his serve to extend the clash, only for a couple of minutes, though.
Nadal crossed the finish line with another solid hold at 5-3, forcing his rival's error in the final point to start a massive celebration of one of the most cherished titles he has ever won.