World no. 2 Rafael Nadal is preparing for the start of the season in Adelaide, embracing a two-week quarantine and hitting the practice court on Saturday. Before his first official matches in 2021, Nadal has secured a nice ranking milestone, becoming only the fourth player since 1973 after Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors with at least 16 years between the first and last top-10 week!
The 20-time Major champion has been a synonym for consistency, cracking the top-100 in April 2003 at 16 and becoming one of the world's leading players two years later. Rafa has been ranked inside the top-10 since April 2005, collecting almost 800 consecutive weeks in the elite group and never dropping out despite challenging periods caused by injuries.
Entering the 2003 season from outside the top-200, Rafa grabbed 19 Challenger triumphs in the first three months and reached the third round at Masters 1000 debut in Monte Carlo, earning enough points to find himself in the top-100 as by far the youngest player.
Nadal scored two wins in Hamburg and Wimbledon, advanced into the semi-final in Umag and claimed the Segovia Challenger title to wrap up the season inside the top-50. At 17 years and six months, Rafa became the fourth-youngest player since 1973 to achieve that after Michael Chang, Aaron Krickstein and Bjorn Borg.
In 2004, an injury halted Nadal's progress, still doing enough to keep himself around the 50th spot and become world no. 2 a year later after the first Major title at Roland Garros and four Masters 1000 crowns.
Rafael Nadal is the fourth player with 16 years between first and last top-10 week.
It was Nadal's breakthrough season and the one that established himself as the player to beat, staying competitive for 15 years and earning many age records.
At 34, Rafa is still among the world's leading players, claiming two ATP titles in 2020 and securing the 20th Major. After the Australian Open, Nadal lost the ATP throne, suffering the quarter-final loss to Dominic Thiem and bouncing back in Acapulco to celebrate the 85th ATP crown.
Staying at home for the next six and a half months due to the coronavirus, Nadal decided to skip Cincinnati and the US Open, returning to the court in September and experiencing the quarter-final loss at the Rome Masters.
Heading to Roland Garros with three matches in his legs since the end of February, Nadal saved his best tennis for the beloved Major, claiming the 13th Parisian crown without losing a set and joining Federer on 20 Majors.
Entering the 2021 ranked 2nd, Nadal has secured the top-10 week 16 seasons after the first one, following Jimmy Connors achievement and trailing only to Andre Agassi (18) and Roger Federer (19). If he remains healthy, Rafa should catch the American in 2023, playing on a high level and keeping himself motivated to chase the notable titles well after turning 30.