Rafael Nadal: did somebody say icon?

All you need to know about the iconic Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal Roland-Garros
 - Elodie Iriart

El Matador, Rafa, master of the red clay…these nicknames evoke the greatness, power and sublime ability of this incredible athlete who has reached the summit of world tennis. Here is everything you need to know about the iconic Rafael Nadal.

How Rafael Nadal became Rafael Nadal ?

It was at a gala match in Majorca back in 2001, featuring Pat Cash (Wimbledon champion in 1987) and Boris Becker, that the future champion first stepped into the spotlight. Becker withdrew from the match due to injury. The organisers decided to replace him with the local tennis star, Rafa, who was aged 14 at the time. The Australian former champion was defeated by the young Nadal, who that day gave a glimpse of his immense potential. 

Rafael Nadal Roland-Garros©Pauline Ballet / FFT

The undisputed master of clay-court tennis, Rafa now has an astonishing number of victories to his name. His reign over the tennis world has only been possible thanks to his constant quest for perfection, backed up by his fierce commitment to his physical and mental preparation. His strength and resistance to any obstacle in his path have left their mark on the courts at Roland-Garros, where he has lifted the trophy a total thirteen times. Just one anecdote about the Majorcan maestro is that, when he returns, Rafa pushes so hard off his feet that he leaves visible notches in the clay!

On Sunday 30th January  2022, on the other side of the globe, Rafael Nadal further cemented his prominent place in tennis legend by becoming the first male player ever to win 21 Grand Slam titles (Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Margaret Court have all done so in the women’s) following his breathtaking victory after a marathon Australian Open final against Daniil Medvedev.

Seventeen years have passed (an outright record in the Open era) between his first ever Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros in 2005 and the one he won this day.

Rafael Nadal Roland-Garros©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Rafael Nadal, the champion with a thousand rituals

More than a touch superstitious, the Spanish champion performs an extensive series of rituals throughout every match! 

Spectators cannot fail to notice that Rafa never walks on the lines of the court, he always jumps during the coin toss, never crosses paths with his opponent when they change sides, carefully lines up his bottles and systematically readjusts his clothes and hair before he serves… These many rituals have become habits!

When he was younger, his uncle Toni made him believe he had magical powers, such as the power to make it rain… Incurably attached to his rituals, whether he wins or loses, the naive boy inside seems to have never let go of the idea that the supernatural might play a key role in his extraordinary career. 

Rafael Nadal Roland-Garros©Pauline Ballet / FFT

Rafa, the legend, on land and in the sky

On land: About time! For a year now, Rafa’s statue has stood proudly in the heart of the stadium that saw him dream, grow and triumph. The thirteen-time winner of Roland-Garros has certainly made his mark on the Porte d'Auteuil stadium, more so than any other player in the history of the game. 

In the sky: To echo his celestial talent, since 2008, Rafael Nadal, the star of world tennis, has had an asteroid named after him! Majorca’s astronomical observatory decided to name asteroid No.128036, which was discovered in 2003, after one of the best tennis players of all time. Located between Mars and Jupiter, this star measures 4km in diameter and moves at a speed of 20km per second, which is quite something! Rafa’s name will forever be etched in tennis legend…and in the world of space exploration !