Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay

Rafael Nadal Parera is a Spanish professional tennis player whose achievements rank him as one of the all-time greats. Rafa, as he is commonly referred to, is currently the world number 2 according to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) ranking, and has amassed a fortune estimated at 200 million dollars. He has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles and 35 Masters. With the help of specially designed racquets for Nadal, and an overgrip, Nadal has also appeared in 27 Grand Slam finals. Nadal’s accomplishments on the tennis court are second only to those of Switzerland’s Roger Federer. On the clay court, however, Nadal is by far the greatest player in the history of the game with a record of 81 consecutive wins on a single surface.

Parents and Childhood

Rafael Nadal was born on 3rd June 1986 to an entrepreneurial family at Manacor on the island of Mallorca, Spain. His father, Sebastian Nadal, was a businessman with interests in manufacturing and Insurance as well as in restaurants while his mother, Ana Maria Parera, traded perfumes. Nadal also has a younger sister, María Isabel.

Nadal was fortunate to be born in an extended family set up that put him in close contact with at least two uncles who were active in professional sport. One uncle, Miguel Ángel Nadal, was a professional footballer best known for playing for the Spanish giants, Barcelona F.C and Spain’s national football team. As a child, Rafael dreamed of following in the footballing footsteps of Miguel. However, it was his other uncle, Antonio "Toni" Nadal, a tennis coach and also a former professional tennis player, who introduced Rafael Nadal to tennis at the tender age of three years and began coaching him because he thought Nadal had a natural aptitude for the game.

The results of the coaching were not long in coming. At the age of eight, Nadal won an under-12 regional tennis championship, and an invitation quickly came from the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation for the young Rafael to move to Barcelona for further training. His family however turned down that lucrative offer because his uncle Toni believes that a person’s talent can be nurtured at home. That decision meant a reduction in sponsorship from the federation and, therefore, Rafael’s father had to continue funding much of the training expenses.

Rafael’s early success on the court also gave his uncle Toni the incentive to step up his training. It was also his uncle Toni who on noticing Nadal’s ambidexterity, encouraged him to play left-handed to give him an edge on the court.

At the age of 12, more titles followed when Nadal won the Spanish and European tennis titles in his age group. However, this success came at a cost because Nadal’s performance at school had deteriorated. His father, therefore, made him choose between football and tennis so that Nadal could pay more attention to his schoolwork. The following year, at the age of 13, he added another title by winning the world championship of tennis U14 Les Petits As tournament in France.

King of Clay

At age 15, Nadal turned professional and competed in two tournaments in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior circuit. Nadal, then ranked No. 762, won his first ATP match on 29th April 2002, when he defeated Ramon Delgado to become the ninth player to ever win an ATP match before the age of 16.

At 16 years of age, Nadal made it to the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Boys Singles tournament and also led his country, Spain, to victory over their U.S rivals in the Davis Cup.

At 17, he reached the third round at Wimbledon, which made him the youngest male to do so since Boris Becker. His steady progress in the professional circuit bore fruit in 2005 when at 19 years of age, Nadal won his first French Open in his first appearance at the tournament. That achievement propelled him to No. 3 in the world ranking. Nadal soon acquired a reputation as the “King of Clay” because, of the 11 singles titles he won that year, eight were on clay. By the end of that year, 2005, Nadal had attained the World No. 2 ranking and won the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

The following year, Nadal won all the four clay-court tournaments he competed and managed to retain his No. 2 rank in spite of the fact that he had suffered a foot injury that prevented him from competing in the Australian Open, and also a shoulder injury at the quarterfinal match against Lleyton Hewitt at the Artois Championship. He also managed to register victories over his great rival, Roger Federer, in the Dubai Duty-Free Men’s Open final and in the final of the French Open but lost to Federer at the Wimbledon final.

World No. 1

The year 2008, marked a major milestone in Rafael Nadal’s professional career. The year got off to an inauspicious start with Nadal’s defeat at the Chennai Open final in India. However, the season took a turn for the better because Nadal made it to the semi-final of the Australian Open for the first time and defeated Federer in three clay-court finals. By the time he met Federer for their third consecutive final at Wimbledon, Nadal was the odds-on favorite as he was looking to extend a 23-match winning streak. Nadal defeated his great rival and became the third man in the Open era to win the Wimbledon and the French Open titles in the same year. After winning his second Rogers Cup, Nadal dethroned Federer to become World No. 1 for the first time. Nadal would later repeat that feat in the 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2019 seasons.

That same year at the Beijing Olympics, Nadal won his first Olympic gold medal by defeating Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the final.

Nadal, was later to win a second gold medal for Spain at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he partnered with Marc Lopez for the men’s doubles to defeat Romania. Nadal, therefore, became the second to win gold medals in both the singles and doubles in the Open era. Nadal has great strategies in doubles

The person

Modern professional sport is big business and therefore very demanding. Gone are the days when people participated in sports merely for the love of the game. To succeed in this arena, therefore, requires exceptional discipline and commitment. It also requires mental toughness and drive that at times may alienate friends and foes. Even with his status as one of the greatest of all time, Nadal, remarkably, is still of the opinion that he has wasted more opportunities than any other player.

Rafael Nadal’s success rests on the solid foundations of mastery of the fundamentals of the game that has been nurtured from childhood by his uncle and long-time coach, Toni Nadal, who has been quoted saying that “Rafael has a great drive, a very good backhand and, like no other, can place the tennis ball well from difficult positions.” Like any good coach, Toni Nadal is aware that talent and skill without discipline and character is a dead-end street. In any given sport there are too many examples of exceptionally gifted players who failed to reach the top due to lack of discipline. Therefore, coach Toni Nadal goes on to say that bad behavior leads to problems on and off that pitch and that is why he would never tolerate Rafael throwing any racquet especially a quality racket.

Many people who meet Nadal face to face also attest to Nadal’s humility. In spite of his overwhelming success on the tennis court, Nadal has not let money and fame get to his head. He says that outside tennis circles he’s “just an ordinary guy.” This of course is quite remarkable because many high achievers also tend to be egoistic and selfish.

Nadal’s lavish spending habits are well documented. He has on more than one occasion been seen on a tennis court with a watch worth $725,000. He also owns a fleet of luxury cars and a yacht valued at $2.8 million. With career earnings topping $102 million and millions more flowing in through product endorsements, nobody would begrudge Nadal for that. Some of the companies he’s associated with include his long-time sponsor, Kia Motors; Nike, which designs Nadal’s clothes, and also with Lanvin colognes and the Mallorca based Quely. There is also the Italian company Emporio Armani, and the online poker room, PokerStars.

Personal Life

On October 19, 2019, Rafael Nadal married his long-time girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello, an insurance worker and business graduate known by her nickname Xisca. The two had been dating for 14 years. Like Nadal, Xsica was born and raised on the island of Mallorca, where Nadal says he has had the same friends since childhood. There’s little doubt that living in a close-knit community, where people retain the same lifelong friend has had an impact on his character and kept him grounded. On a lighter note, Xsica rarely attends Nadal’s games because she thinks her presence will be a distraction.

Nadal also retains his interest in football which he had to give up in order to pursue his professional tennis career. He is a fan of the Real Madrid football team in spite of the fact that he was influenced by his uncle, Miguel Nadal, who played for Real Madrid’s rivals, Barcelona. Nadal is also interested in golf and he even considered becoming a professional golfer in 2006, when an ankle injury threatened to end his tennis career. In golf, Nadal has said that he’s a fan of Tiger Woods.

Like all great personalities, Nadal is aware that he has received much from sport and society and is therefore very much interested in giving back to society through sport. In 2008, Rafael Nadal together with his mother, Ana María Parera, established the Rafa Nadal Foundation with an aim to use sports to help disadvantaged children.

The foundation’s mission is to work with children and the youth in Spain and India, “to make the most of their abilities, empowering them and fostering values such as self-improvement, respect, and effort.” Both his parents are active in the foundation with his mother acting as chair and his father as vice-chair. Nadal’s wife also serves as a project director for the foundation.

In line with the foundation’s vision, Nadal, in 2010, opened the Rafael Nadal Tennis School at the Anantapur Sports village in one of the poorest regions of India.

Nadal’s commitment to charity and concern for social well-being also manifested itself in 2018, when, apart from donating a million euros to the victims of a flood that devastated his native island of Mallorca, he was also personally involved in the rescue efforts.

Future Plans

At 33 years of age, Rafael Nadal may still have some years on the court but, at the back of his mind, he must be aware that he’s on the final stretch of his tennis career. He is focusing his efforts on the development of tennis and assisting underprivileged children. He has therefore invested heavily in establishing tennis academies across the globe, such as the state-of-the-art facility he has put up in his hometown of Manacor. He plans to expand this particular facility in addition to his other academies in India, Kuwait, and Mexico.


We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply