Rafael Nadal is on course to be the greatest player in the history of the tennis. The 25-year-old Spanish wonder just won his sixth French Open, racking up another Grand Slam title for a total of 10. He also helped snag the Davis Cup – twice – for the Spanish team, and brought home an Olympic gold medal from Beijing in 2008.
Introduced to the game as a toddler, Nadal has been winning ever since. Here’s what keeps him going.
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Staying Passionate: Former tennis world champion Mats Wilander says one of Nadal’s strengths is that, even though he’s number one, he keeps changing his game, keeping it fresh and keeping his opponents guessing. That’s because the game still thrills him as it did as a child. “It is still exciting and I still get nervous these days!” Nadal says.
Rolling with the Punches: Tennis has not always been easy on Nadal. He’s suffered a string of injuries over the years, some of which forced him out of major competitions. “His heart is too hungry to let his body get in the way,” Wilander says. “Sometimes he oversteps his boundaries.” But he always gets back in the game. A 2004 injury caused him to miss the French Open. No worries. He won the next five.
Taking It Easy: Nadal says that he doesn’t stress much about tennis – “In the end, it’s only a game,” he insists – but he makes a point to enjoy life off the court. Sometimes that means sequestering himself in his room with a video. Other times he’s sightseeing, playing golf, or at a restaurant – his favorites are Spanish, of course – with his friends. “Spanish food, I think, is the best,” he says.
Being a Family Man: On his way to number one, Nadal has never been alone. He has always had the support of his family, in particular, his uncle Toni Nadal, who has been his coach since he first put a racquet in the young Rafa’s hands. “My Uncle Toni loved the sport of tennis, and he is the one who showed me about the sport and transmitted to me that passion for the game and the respect,” Nadal says.