Rafael Nadal: The Making of a Champion, Part 2
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Continued from Part 1
In early 2001, at age 14, Rafa began playing the qualifying draws of professional tournaments.
Although he managed to win some matches, he failed to qualify for the main draws in any of the 10 Spanish Futures he played between January and September.
Then, having been given a wild-card into the main draw of the Challenger in Seville, he won his first main-draw match and gained five ATP points to become world No.1002.
At age 15, Rafa ended 2001 world No. 811.
In April 2002, age 15 years and 10 months and ranked world No. 762, he became only the ninth man in the Open era to win an ATP match before his 16th birthday.
Having received a wild-card, he beat world No.88 Ramon Delgado in straight sets at the tournament in Mallorca before losing in the next round to Olivier Rochus.
This result moved him to world No. 588.
Having never played an ITF junior event and, with the help of a wild-card, he then reached the semifinals at junior Wimbledon (his only ever appearance in a Grand Slam junior event).
Having turned 16, Rafa then won six of the nine Futures events he entered from July until December.
Having reached the semifinals and last-16 of Challengers at Barcelona and Seville respectively and finished the year winning back-to-back Futures events in Gran Canaria, Rafa ended 2002 world No. 199.
In early 2003 Rafa’s incredible ascent continued.
He reached the finals of Challengers at Hamburg, Cherbourg and Cagliari and won at Barletta.
He then qualified for the Monte Carlo Masters, where in the second round he beat the 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa and entered the world’s top 100.
Rafa then reached the third round of Wimbledon and the second round of the US Open.
By August he had entered the top 50 and was named ATP Newcomer of the Year.
He ended 2003, at age 17, world No. 49.
2004 began well for Rafa when he reached the third round of the Australian Open.
In March, in their first-ever meeting, world No. 34 ranked Rafa, defeated world No. 1 Roger Federer in 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Miami Masters.
By May however, Rafa had picked up a stress fracture in his left ankle, and was forced to miss most of the clay court season, including the French Open and then Wimbledon.
On his return in July, he struggled to regain his form and though he helped Spain win the 2004 Davis Cup, won hardly any other matches on the tour the rest of the year, which he finished ranked world No. 51.
Will Rafa be playing past age 28?
In early 2005 Rafa reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, won back-to-back clay court titles at Costa Do Sauipe and Acapulco and then reached the final at the Miami Masters where he lost in five sets to Federer.
These results lifted him into the world’s top 20.
Rafa then won back-to-back titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and entered the top 10.
In June, having just turned 19, Rafa began his reign as the King of Clay by winning the first of four consecutive French Open titles and moved to world No. 3.
Despite losing in the second round of Wimbledon, in July Rafa reached world No.2 where he remained for the next three years behind Roger Federer, and was named 2005 ATP Most Improved Player of the Year.
2006 saw Rafa win reach his first Wimbledon final, in which he lost in four sets to Federer. He again reached the 2007 Wimbledon final, losing there 6-2 in the fifth set, once again to Federer; a result which left him devastated, as he felt he could have won.
In 2008 he won consecutive clay court titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Hamburg and Roland Garros and then the pre-Wimbledon grass court event at Queen’s.
Then in the Wimbledon final, age 22, Nadal finally overcame Federer, 9-7 in the fifth set, after four hours and forty-seven minutes, the longest final in the 131-year history of the event, to become the first Spaniard since Manuel Santana in 1966 to win the title.
Toni said, “Wimbledon had always been our dream, but in my heart of hearts I always feared it was an impossible dream. I had always pushed him to set his sights high and higher, but I did not honestly know he could climb this high. When he won, it was the only time I had ever cried on a tennis court.”
Rafa ended Federer’s four-and-a-half year reign as world No.1 in August 2008 and a few weeks later at Beijing won the Olympic gold medal in singles too.
In February 2009 Nadal consolidated his position as world No.1 , winning his sixth Grand Slam singles title with another five-set victory over Federer in the final of the Australian Open.
Rafa, suffering from tendinitis in both knees, then lost for the first time ever at the French Open to Robin Soderling and was unable to defend his Wimbledon title.
He ended 2009 ranked world No. 2, once again behind Federer.
2010 saw Rafa overcome the injuries, which had halted his progress the previous year.
He resumed his title as the King of Clay, winning consecutive Masters events at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid.
He then won his fifth French Open title, without losing a set, and regained his world No.1 ranking in the process.
Rafa won his eighth Grand Slam and second Wimbledon, beating Tomas Berdych in the 2010 final.
Two months later he beat Novak Djokovic in the final to win his first U.S. Open and in doing so became only the seventh man in tennis history—the youngest in the Open era—to achieve a career Grand Slam.
In 2011 Nadal beat Federer in the final to win his sixth French Open.
He then lost in the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to Djokovic, but ended the year by guiding Spain to victory against Argentina in the final of the Davis Cup.
Rafa lost in the final of the 2012 to Djokovic in the longest-ever Grand Slam final lasting five hours and fifty-three minutes.
He reached the semifinals of Indian Wells but at Miami was forced to withdraw at the semifinals stage against Andy Murray with a knee injury.
Upon recovery he headed back to Europe for the clay court season.
He then won consecutive tiles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, losing though, on the blue clay in Madrid.
Having won the Rome Masters he beat Djokovic in the final to win a record seventh French Open.
By mid-2012 Nadal had won 50 career singles titles, including 11 Grand Slams, and earned over $50 million in on-court prize money.
Aged just 26 and despite recurrent injuries, Nadal still has the potential to go on and become the greatest player of all time.
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