Rafael Nadal US Open 2022

10 most iconic Rafael Nadal ATP moments of all time

No man has won more men’s grand slam singles titles than Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is, quite simply, a sports legend. His power, style and longevity are staggering. And for those who are into it, backing Nadal with the bookies, especially at the French Open, has been an almost guarantor of success. Indeed, his consistency has been a bane of sports betting sites for two decades now.

As an ode to the man hailing from the Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca, we have decided to look the at top ten iconic moments of this champion’s career. And that’s so far! Because with this tennis icon, who knows what more is to come.

1) The first win

The date was 29th April 2002. Many did not know it at the time, but it was the day a legend took his first major steps to tennis immortality with a debut win on the ATP tour. And in his first game too. On his home island of Mallorca no less, Nadal defeated Ramón Delgado, and in doing so at the tender age of 15, became just the ninth player to achieve the feat in the Open Era before his 16th birthday. The tennis public knew they had something special on their hands.

2) The first Grand Slam

It didn’t take long for the very first Slam. And it coincided with Nadal’s first visit to Roland Garros, a venue at which he would dominate. The year was 2005, and the then-19-year-old defeated one Roger Federer in the semi-finals, going on to overcome Mariano Puerta in the final. At just 19 years of age, Nadal was the first teenage Grand Slam winner since Pete Sampras at the US Open, 15 years before.

3) Davis Cup champion

In December 2004, in Seville, Nadal became, at 18 years of age, the youngest player to win a singles game in the final of the Davis Cup. And he did so no less by defeating USA’s Andy Roddick. Nadal’s heroics helped Spain win the title that year. He has since repeated the feat a further four times, with his total of five titles an individual record.

4) The first Wimbledon title

Where Nadal had dominated in Paris, Federer had dominated in London. In 2006 and 2007 Nadal had lost the final to the Swiss at Wimbledon, with Federer claiming his fourth and fifth titles in the process. 2008 produced an epic, with Nadal running out winner in five gruelling sets played over nearly five hours. Many regard it as the greatest Grand Slam final of all time, with two legends playing at the peak of their powers.

5) First defeat at Roland Garros

Sometimes it is the defeats that define a champion as much as their victories. In 2009 Nadal lost his first ever match in Paris, crashing out to Sweden’s Robin Söderling in the fourth round. It ended Nada’s run of four consecutive tournament wins at the French Open, but far from signified the demise of the Spaniard’s domination in France. Nadal roared back to win the next five titles, and he has claimed a record 14 to date. And that’s in 18 visits. Simply staggering.

6) The ‘Career Golden Slam’

In 2018, Nadal had, even by his own imperious standards, a year to remember. It started in inauspicious fashion at the first Slam of the season, losing in the quarter finals at the Australian Open. But from there, it was perfection. Victories at the French Open and Wimbledon set up Nadal for a tilt at the title at Flushing Meadows – the one Grand Slam title that had so far eluded him. But victory in the final in four sets over another legend of the court – Novak Djokovic – secured Nadal his ninth major title, and that Holy Grail of tennis achievements: the ‘Career Golden Slam’ of all four majors and Olympic Gold. Only two men have achieved the feat ever: Nadal and Andre Agassi.

7) La Decima

Let’s leave it to the words of tennis legend Boris Becker. “To win Roland Garros one time, it’s almost impossible. To win it five times, it is impossible. To win it ten times, I don’t know the word,” Boris Becker said. Whatever the word is, Nadal achieved it in 2017. And he wasn’t done yet.

8) Ties Grand Slam title record

With Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal, the 21st century has seen the greatest era of tennis rivalry in history. The fact that all three of these players have traded the record for the most career Grand Slam titles is testament to their greatness. It was at Roland Garros in 2020 that Nadal first climbed to the top of the pile, equalling Federer’s record of 20 career titles.

9) 2022 Australian Open title

By winning the Australian Open title in 2022, Nadal claimed success in Melbourne for only the second time. And it came a staggering 13 years after his maiden success. The win also saw the Spaniard go clear of his great rivals Federer and Djokovic at the top of the pile with 21 career Grand Slam titles.

10) 22 and counting…

Just months after his 21st Grand Slam title, Nadal claimed his record-extending 22nd in Paris. And for anyone who believed his powers were waning with a new generation of talent emerging, beware. 23-year-old Caper Ruud of Norway was vanquished in the final in three sets. Nadal only dropped six games. The greatest just keeps going.

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Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.