Rafael "Rafa" Nadal Parera (born June 3, 1986) is a Spanish tennis player who's well-known as the "King of Clay" who rules clay courts, the "Raging Bull" who fights unceasingly from the first point to the last, and one of the greatest male tennis players of all time.
Nadal won his first Grand Slam at the 2005 French Open when he was just 19 years old and he quickly established himself as nigh-invulnerable on clay, going on a record-setting streak of 81 matches won on clay from 2005-07. He also established himself as Roger Federer's friendly archrival, beating the otherwise nigh-untouchable World No. 1 Federer in four straight French Opens and handing him his sole loss at the Grand Slams in both 2006 and 2007.
It took a longer time for Nadal to establish himself as a major force on non-clay surfaces, but he first solved the grass-court puzzle at Wimbledon when he beat Federer in a classic 5-setter in the 2008 Wimbledon final to win his first non-clay Slam and ascend to the No. 1 ranking later that year. He then solved the hard-court puzzle too by beating Federer (again) in the 2009 Australian Open final despite having played another classic 5-setter against his countryman Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals that caused many pundits to think he'd be too exhausted to play Federer afterwards. (He wasn't.)
Nadal's career since then — and in general — has been a constant tango of his main rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic seeming to overtake him (ex: losing the French Open and No. 1 ranking to Federer in 2009, losing 6 finals in a row and the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic in 2011), him mounting a determined comeback to regain the mental edge on them (ex: regaining the No. 1 ranking and winning 3 Grand Slams in 2010, regaining the No. 1 ranking and winning 2 Slams in 2013), and then having to repeat the process all over again after yet another injury to his body and/or resurgence from his rivals. Despite fears as early as 2005 that his grueling style of play would prematurely end his career with injuries, however, he has rebounded from every setback thrown at him and continues to be one of the toughest outs on the men's tennis tour in his 30s.
It also truly cannot be understated just how insanely dominant Nadal has been on clay: he has won the French Open a record 12 times — more than any other player has won any Slam — and lost only twice there since 2004 (not counting an injury-induced withdrawal in 2016), a record total of 58 clay titles, and the best-ever winning percentage on clay of over 90%, along with a plethora of other clay-court records. And that's not even getting into his other remarkable achievements, such as achieving the Career Golden Slam by winning all four Slams and Olympic gold and being the only man in the Open Era to win three Slams on three different surfaces in the same year (2010).
Tropes associated with Rafael Nadal:
- Always Second Best: While he's not always the second-best player in the world, he holds the ATP record for the most weeks spent at No. 2 and is still second in the ATP Grand Slam tally to Federer despite coming within one Slam of closing the gap.
- Crippling Overspecialization: Early in his career, he was recognized as an immensely talented player but many pundits thought his accomplishments would be limited outside of clay courts. However, he successfully subverted this trope by winning the grass-court Wimbledon and hard-court US Open multiple times later in his career.
- Defeating the Undefeatable: He earned his place as the No. 1 ranked player, the Wimbledon champion, and as one of the greatest players in the game during his legendary 2008 final against Roger Federer. It was the only time Federer lost there between the 2003 and 2009 tours.
- Determinator: One of his playing trademarks is that he never, ever, ever gives up on winning even when he's match point down and/or facing an opponent playing the match of his life. Federer may get the poetic odes for his graceful playing style, but Nadal is the one virtually everyone names as the one they'd choose to play for them in a tennis match with their life on the line.
- Game-Breaking Injury: Has suffered from far too many injuries to count throughout his career, the worst ones being a severe case of tendonitis that caused him to miss almost the entire second half of 2012 and a wrist injury that caused him to withdraw from the French Open in 2016 for the first time in his career.
- Glass Cannon: Has a devastating forehand and a near-unparalleled ability to run down every ball... but just read the above Game-Breaking Injury entry on how many times his body has broken down. He even had to stop doing a new, huge serving motion that brought him a lot of success in 2010 because it was hurting his shoulder too much.
- He's Back: For all of his game-breaking injuries, he's come back from every single one of them stronger and hungrier than ever, rebounding from injury-riddled 2012 and 2016 seasons to win multiple Slams and reclaim the No. 1 ranking in the following 2013 and 2017 seasons.
- Humble Hero: Even after winning a truly staggering number of Grand Slams and other titles, he still talks down his chances before every match and always gives his opponents due credit.
- Neat Freak: Has an extremely precise way of organizing his water bottles at every match.
- Significant Wardrobe Shift: In the first few years of his career, he wore sleeveless shirts and baggy shorts on court that marked him as the youthful, rebellious upstart to the older and more sophisticated Federer. However, after he beat Federer at 2008 Wimbledon and ended that year as No. 1 for the first time, he switched to a more conventional wardrobe in 2009 to signify that he was no longer the "upstart" but the leader now. (Although he did go back to sleeveless kits in 2018.)
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: While his English is fairly comprehensible and he's improved in it over the years, he isn't as fluent in it as the likes of Federer or Djokovic and some of his oddly-worded phrases during press conferences like "That is the true, no?" have become Memetic Mutations in the tennis community.
- The Rival: Most famously to Federer, but most frequently to Djokovic who's played an Open Era men's record of over 50 matches with him.
- Southpaw Advantage: Plays left-handed, which is often cited as one of the main reasons he's able to trouble Federer's right-handed backhand in a way very few other players can.
- Tasty Gold: Has a tradition of biting each trophy/medal he wins for photos (like the one on this page).