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Men's Health

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Rafael Nadal's Secrets for Success

The No. 1 world tennis champ talks about his childhood, his training, his diet, and the sacrifices he has made for his sport.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Rafael Nadal does not remember the first time he held a tennis racquet. He was too young -- 3 years old, maybe 4. But that racquet must have felt just right in his small hands. By age 5, he was a regular at the local tennis club in his hometown of Manaco,  on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Winning titles came almost as early.

When he was 8 years old, he won a regional championship for players under 12, defeating boys who were three years older. By the time he turned 12, he had won both Spanish and European titles in his age group. Four years later, he was listed among the world's top 50 tennis players. In August 2008, at age 22, he was No. 1.

Now 25, Nadal is No. 1 -- again -- having defeated his longtime rival Roger Federer last June to retake the top rank. Later that summer, he won the U.S. Open, earning himself a Career Grand Slam, meaning he's won each of tennis's four Grand Slam titles. He's the first player to do so since Federer achieved the distinction in 2009. (Grand Slams are the most important competitions in pro tennis. They are the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.)

Rafael Nadal: 'Unstoppable Opponent'

All told, Nadal has won nine Grand Slam titles. The number may be 10 by the time you read this. He was expected to win the French Open last month, after our press date.

"His greatest achievements are those Grand Slams, winning the Davis Cup with the Spanish team, and winning the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics," says former tennis world champion Mats Wilander.

"Overall, he's the best right now, and if he keeps playing as well as he does now, in four or five years he's going to be considered the greatest player of all time."

What makes him such an unstoppable opponent, says Wilander, is his ability to know his opponent's game as well as he knows his own, and to use that knowledge against him.

"If his opponent can't run, Nadal makes him run. He picks his game apart, he picks him apart," Wilander says. "And he has learned to hit balls where you least want him to. That might be behind you, to your left, your right, short, long -- always, he's catching you off guard."

Wilander cites Nadal's eagerness to keep learning the game as another factor in his phenomenal success. "He keeps changing his game even though he's No. 1 in the world." And then, of course, there's the way that he hits the ball. "He puts twice the amount of spin on the ball than any other player," says Wilander. "That's why he is so dominant."

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