The Spanish tennis star is one of his country's greatest hopes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that will take place in 2021. Here are five essential things you need to know about one of the world's best tennis players, who makes his debut today in the Madrid Open.
Rafael Nadal begins his Madrid Masters 1000 Open campaign today (5 May) against compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, who himself is one of the brightest hopes in Spanish tennis. Nadal, who two weeks ago won his first title of 2021 in Barcelona, will be bidding to win his sixth Madrid Open crown on the clay courts of the Spanish capital. Victory would equal Novak Djokovic's 36 Masters 1000 titles.
And if Nadal does triumph, it will be put him in a strong position for an assault on gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
But how much do you know about Spain's superstar tennis player? Find out everything you need below.
He has won 20 Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals
Over a spectacular career that has seen him become one of the most celebrated tennis players of all times, Rafa Nadal has won two Olympic tennis gold medals. His first came at the Beijing 2008 Games, where he triumphed in the singles tournament. That was followed by a doubles victory at Rio 2016, which he won alongside Marc Lopez. His victory in Beijing helped him rise to the top of the world ATP Rankings for the first time in his career, while the second brought him his own slice of history. He is one of only four tennis players to win gold medals in both singles and doubles, alongside Serena and Venus Williams, and Chilean Nicolas Massu.
Those two Olympic medals are an impressive addition to an already stacked trophy cabinet. Alongside Roger Federer, he shares the record for the most major championship wins with 20 Grand Slam titles, including 13 at Roland Garros, four at the US Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open. Overall, he has won 87 singles titles, including 35 at Masters 1000 level, just one shy of Novak Djokovic.
Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth Olympic Games for Nadal, who shared his first Olympic experience, the Athens 2004 doubles tournament, with his current coach, Carlos Moya. After winning gold in Beijing he was forced to pull out of London 2012 with a lingering knee injury but returned to full strength at Rio 2016 - a year in which he was both his country’s flagbearer and a gold medallist.
He has overcome numerous injuries
Nadal's resume is even more impressive given the fact that, when he was just 19 years old, he had to contemplate retirement after doctors diagnosed a congenital bone problem in his left foot. Despite that setback, recurring problems with his knees and, more recently, his back, he has risen to become one of the best tennis players in history.
Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2012, Nadal recalled the impact his injury issues had on his Olympic dreams, saying: "For me the Olympics was very tough. I was very, very sad for three weeks around then. I had the chance to carry the Spanish flag. It only comes every four years. Missing the US Open was hard but you think you will have more chances.
"The Olympics is once every four years and you don’t know how many more you will get. I will work very hard to be in Rio."
Fast forward four years and the Spanish maestro was holding a second Olympic gold medal in his hands. And who would bet against him adding another in Tokyo?
He was born in Mallorca - a tennis-mad island
Rafael Nadal was born on 3 June 1986 in Manacor, a small town on the east coast of Majorca. But he isn’t the first world number one from this Mediterranean island. That honour goes to Carlos Moya.
Despite being born on the same island, Nadal and Moya met in Stuttgart, Germany when Nadal was playing in an under-12 tournament. Moya had heard great things about that 11-year-old boy and chose him as a hitting partner for a few short minutes. Seven years later, they were teammates in the Athens 2004 doubles competition and now they are pupil and coach.
If fact, in 2008, the Olympic gold medal wasn’t the only he won. He also won the Balearic Islands’ Gold Medal.
Sporting talent runs in Rafael Nadal's family, but by his mid-teenage years the mult-talented Spaniard was on the path to tennis stardom.
He is deeply involved in social causes
Rafa Nadal heads a foundation that promotes the social integration and personal development of at-risk children in India and Spain through sports and education.
In 2018, when a flash flood in Sant Llorenç des Cardassar, a small town close to his birthplace, left 13 dead and hundreds of others affected, he joined the clean-up effort.
And during the recent pandemic, he joined basketball star Pau Gasol in leading a Red Cross initiative to raise over 11 million Euros for affected individuals and families.
Nadal had this to say when launching the campaign: "We athletes are what we are largely thanks to your support. Now is the time that we cannot let you down. It occurred to me to ring my friend Pau [Gasol] and he was also thinking about doing something. We reached the conclusion that now is the time to launch this initiative, which we hope that the whole of Spanish sport will get behind.”
He runs the Rafa Nadal Academy
Chances are, you may have noticed the masks Rafa Nadal wears before his matches. They are the official masks of the Rafa Nadal Academy, which he has been using to bring attention to the need to wear masks due to COVID-19.
In 2016 in Manacor, he launched the Rafa Nadal Academy a high-performance tennis centre where aspiring athletes can combine tennis training with education. In just five years there are already some former students who are making their mark on the tennis world, including Norway’s Casper Ruud who is 22nd in the ATP Ranking.
During the pandemic, the academy’s facilities have also served as his training base, and over the past few months some of the top tennis players in the world have trained there, including compatriot Roberto Bautista, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime and Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.