Rafael Nadal was born on June 3, 1986, in Mallorca, Spain. Toni Nadal, a former professional tennis player, began working with Rafael when he was three years old, finding in him a talent for the sport.
Nadal won an under-12 regional tennis championship when he was eight years old, motivating his uncle Toni to increase his training. Toni noted that Nadal was playing his forehand shots with two hands at the time, so he encouraged him to play left-handed, believing that it would offer Nadal an advantage on the court.
Nadal won the Spanish and European tennis titles in his age group when he was only 12 years old. He began his professional career when he was 15 years old.
Nadal is known as the “King of Clay” because of his skill on clay courts, as well as his topspin-heavy strokes and persistence. He has won a record 13 French Open singles titles and ranks first all-time in the men’s game with 22 Grand Slam wins.
“King of Clay”
At the age of 16, Nadal reached the semifinals of Wimbledon’s Boys’ Singles tournament. At the age of 17, he became the youngest male since Boris Becker to reach the third round of Wimbledon. Nadal won the French Open for the first time in 2005, when he was only 19 years old, and his world ranking rocketed to No. 3. That year, Nadal won 11 singles titles, eight of which were on clay, earning him the moniker “King of Clay.”
Despite shoulder and foot issues, Nadal won his second French Open in a row and added four more wins in 2006. He won Roland Garros again the following year, as well as five more trophies. In 2008, Nadal won the French Open again, as well as Wimbledon, when he defeated rival Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon final in history, and the gold medal in the Beijing Olympics. Nadal’s winning streak after Wimbledon was a career-high 32 matches.
With his powerful topspin-heavy smashes, quickness, and mental toughness, Nadal reigned as one of the “Big Four” of men’s tennis for the next many years together with Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. In 2008, he reached world No. 1 and won his first Australian Open the following year. In 2010, he won the French Open and Wimbledon, and his subsequent US Open triumph made him only the second man in history to complete the career Golden Slam – victories at all four majors, as well as Olympic gold.
The next year, Nadal led Spain to its fourth Davis Cup title, but he lost his No. 1 position after losing to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. He avenged himself the following spring by defeating the Serbian great at Roland Garros to capture a record seventh French Open singles title. However, Nadal was stunned in the second round of Wimbledon by Czech player Lukas Rosol, in what some observers called one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Following that, Nadal confirmed his withdrawal from the 2012 Summer Olympics due to knee tendinitis, a condition that had sidelined him for several months.
Nadal won his eighth French Open title in June 2013 after defeating fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in straight sets. “I never like to compare years, but it’s true that this year means something very special for me,” Nadal told ESPN after the victory. “Five months ago, nobody on my team imagined a comeback like this because we thought it was impossible.” But here we are today, which is great and incredible.”
Later that month, at Wimbledon, Nadal was knocked out in the first round by Belgium’s Steve Darcis in straight sets. Tennis fans who expected a good showing from the Spanish star were taken aback, prompting questions about his health and general game. But Nadal was back on track by the U.S. Open, where he overcame Djokovic to earn his second title there. The victory propelled Nadal back to the top of the world rankings that October.
Nadal won his tenth French Open title in June 2014, defeating Djokovic in four sets. It was his 14th Grand Slam title, matching him with Pete Sampras for second all-time, trailing only Federer’s 17 titles. He did, however, withdraw from the 2014 US Open in August, citing a wrist injury, and played a reduced schedule for the rest of the year.
Nadal went through the tournament at the 2015 Australian Open, but his physical talents appeared to be hampered as he lost in the quarterfinals against hard-hitting Tomas Berdych. He then lost to Djokovic in the French Open quarterfinals, his first defeat at the tournament since 2009 and only the second of his career.
After winning the Mercedes Cup in Germany in 2015, Nadal was knocked out in the second round at Wimbledon by Dustin Brown. He then lost in the third round of the US Open against Fabio Fognini, ending a sequence of ten years with at least one Grand Slam victory.
Setbacks and His Comeback
The hard-hitting Spaniard had another uneven season in 2016. After losing in the first round of the Australian Open in January, he bounced back to win titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Nadal’s attempts to play through a chronic wrist ailment, however, took their toll, and he was forced to withdraw from his favorite tournament, the French Open, after two rounds. Nadal won gold in men’s doubles with Marc Lopez at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
In 2017, Nadal played Roger Federer in the finals of the Australian Open, but was lost in five sets. Federer, who had come back from a series of injuries, paid respect to Nadal after his victory: “I’d like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback, too,” Federer remarked. “I don’t think either of us expected to be in the final of the Australian Open this year.” I am delighted for you. I would have been content to lose to you tonight as well.”
Nadal bounced back to win the 2017 French Open for the record-breaking tenth time, dubbed “La Decima” in Spanish. He extended his victory run at the 2017 U.S. Open after defeating Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland at Roland Garros. Nadal’s triumph over South African Kevin Anderson was his 16th Grand Slam title, restoring him to the top spot. Nadal discussed the ups and downs of his comeback after winning the US Open. “It’s just unbelievable what happened to me this year after a couple of years with some problems: injuries, not playing well,” he stated. “It’s been very emotional since the beginning of the season.”
Injuries struck again in early 2018, forcing Nadal to withdraw from his quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open, but he was back in top form by the start of the clay-court season, claiming his 400th career win on the surface en route to his 11th career title at the Barcelona Open in April.
The 2018 French Open saw more of the same from the tournament’s most accomplished player, with Nadal annihilating his opponents. The final versus No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem posed an intriguing matchup, as the big-hitting Austrian had defeated Nadal on clay a month earlier, but the Spaniard rolled to a straight-set triumph for his 11th French singles title and 17th Grand Slam title overall.
Nadal reached the semifinals of the next two Grand Slams, but was forced to withdraw from the latter due to a knee injury, and subsequently underwent ankle surgery in November. He recovered to reach the Australian Open final in 2019, and then battled further lingering ailments to restore his clay-court dominance that spring, culminating in a four-set victory over Thiem for his 12th French Open title.
Fans were treated to another Nadal-Federer classic at Wimbledon that summer, with the Swiss great winning their semifinal showdown in four sets. But Nadal was unstoppable two months later in New York, when he defeated a tenacious Daniil Medvedev in five sets to win his fourth U.S. Open and 19th career Grand Slam.
Nadal defeated Djokovic to win his 13th French Open championship in 2020, tying him with Federer for the men’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles victories. Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Rafael Nadal in five sets in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Australian Open, halting his attempt for a record 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title.
In January 2022, Nadal won his 21st singles title in Melbourne, Australia, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Federer for the most singles titles. In June 2022, Nadal won his 14th French Open in Paris, securing his 22nd Grand Slam championship and moving him two wins above of Djokovic and Roger Federer, both of whom had 20 Grand Slam titles.
Nadal has been dating Xisca Perello since 2005 and announced their engagement in January 2019, before getting married the following October. On 8 October 2022, they welcomed their first child, a son named Rafael.
The pair exchanged vows in front of 350 guests at the La Fortaleza castle in Majorca, his birthplace. Actors Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman, and Hugh Laurie were among those invited.
Nadal’s wife works as a project director for the RafaNadal Foundation.
Nadal is an agnostic atheist. Nadal speaks Spanish, Balearic Catalan and English.