Rafael Nadal: A 1000 chapter story

“I think he will retire by 30.”

“700-800 matches is the most he can play.”

“There is no way back from this injury, he should retire now.”

“2012 could be the last season of the career for the Spaniard.”

“Rafa and Longevity, don’t go along.”

There isn’t one critic or tennis enthusiast who could claim to have predicted that Rafael Nadal would still be around, playing like the champion that everyone knows him to be. Such has been the ambiguity around Nadal’s injury laden, yet amazingly glorified and decorated career. 1000 ATP matches played, a number many doubted, that the 14 times Grand Slam winner would achieve as he became the 11th member in the elite 1000 matches club, and the third active one after Roger Federer and David Ferrer.
The shadows of injuries so dark, that each match became a story in its own right.

Who knows if this would be the last one that he plays?

When Rafael Nadal stepped on the center court of the Crandon Park in Miami, a 1000th appearance was guaranteed. The 1000th time the Matador of Spain went in for a kill. The 1000th chapter of a storied career ended in a fashion that could also be the epitome of his career, rising from the bottom when the odds ruled him out.

Rafa pulled out an astonishing win after being bagelled in the first set and an upset was on the cards. The scoreline read 0-6, 6-2, 6-3. And the signature fist-pumps were on display. The stage of Miami was also a fitting occasion as he faced his arch rival Roger Federer for the first time here, and made a name for himself in the tennis world by defeating him, the man who was already taunted as a future of the game and a future legend. In a way, Miami is the birth place of The Giant Slayer, Rafael Nadal, only this time he entered the field as the giant himself.

What this milestone means to the man himself was evident from his post-match interview where he was quoted as saying,

“1000 is a good number: it’s a good news for me because it means that my career has been very long. These years people were saying that I would have had a very short career, so that’s already a beautiful news. I remember very well my first match because I played it in Mallorca: it was my first win on the ATP Tour and it means a lot.”

It’s not the time to think about the retirement yet. And he doesn’t think about the other people’s thoughts either. He was open with his views regarding the rumors around his career,

“I don’t know what you write, I don’t get worried about those things. I will decide when the right moment will come, a person who writes via computer won’t decide it. And when the right moment will come for Federer too, it will be up to him to decide, and nobody else. You do what you can. There are good and bad seasons, but you always try to give your best in order that everything goes well. It can’t be everything perfect in a 15-year career. Both me and Federer will play until we are happy playing tennis, travelling and being in the tournaments. When it won’t happen anymore, we will focus on other things.”

Evidently, there is still hunger in him and there is certainly more that he has to offer to the game. More of thrilling baseline defense, more running forehands down the line, more bottle label adjustments.

The Club

The elusive club features some of the greatest names in the history of tennis and the addition of Rafael Nadal as the 11th entrant only adds further glory to it.
1. Jimmy Connors – 1535
2. Roger Federer – 1339
3. Ivan Lendl – 1310
4. Guillermo Vilas – 1215
5. Andre Agassi – 1144
6. Ilie Nastase – 1085
7. John McEnroe – 1075
8. Stefan Edberg – 1071
9. David Ferrer – 1033
10. Brian Gottfried – 1004
Rafa enters the club with 1000 matches, 822 wins, 178 defeats with a jaw dropping win percentage of 82.20% which is third highest overall but highest for a player with 1000 matches under his belt.

Breaking down the numbers

Analysing the 822-178 win/loss record of Rafael Nadal

By surface

Clay – 365-34
Hard – 397-121
Grass – 58-17

The clay season makes roughly one third of the entire season but Nadal’s victories on clay are almost equal to hard. This speaks the volume of his game on clay and therefore, the much famed title of The King of Clay. 72 wins have come in the Roland Garros alone that accounts for his unprecedented 9 titles on French soil. Nadal’s 81 match clay court winning streak from 2005-07 is the longest in open era.

It should also be noted that during this clay court streak, Nadal also won hard court titles in Masters 1000 Canada, Indian Wells, Madrid and ATP 500 series in Beijing and Dubai.

By Major Events

Grand Slams – 209-32
Masters 1000 – 321-71

  • Evidently, a total of 530 wins out of 1000 have come at the highest level of competitive tennis.
  • Out of all, 143 wins have been against Top 10 opponents, with 78 losses.
  • Against rest of the Big 4 Nadal has a win record of 63-46, with 23 victories apiece against Federer and Djokovic and 17 against Andy Murray.
  • He has a 69-34 W/L record in finals with a 66.99% conversion rate technically meaning he wins every two finals out of three. 42 of the 69 titles are at Grand Slam (14 titles) or Masters 1000 level (28 titles). This shows that he has beaten the best of the field to win most of his titles.

Rafa, in a nutshell, is above numbers and stats and record books. In the longer run, he is there to stay in the millions of hearts, forever. From his sleeveless shirts and baggy shorts to short haired head, sleeved shirts, he grew up as a player and as a person, becoming a role model for many.

From a typical clay-courter to 2010 US Open (career slam) winner, his legacy is there to stay at the pinnacle of tennis history. From a rough English speaking teenager to a fluent guy with media, Rafa has always defied the odds heavily stacked against him. He’s lost a great deal to injuries, so many opportunities have slipped right from his palms. Yet, here he is, again with that ambiguity around, how long will he stay in the league of competition? How much is left in him? The question still looms around.

He rose above the defective tarsal scaphoid bone, 7-months knee injury layoff in 2012, the doubts on his abilities outside clay, the mental demons of the 2015 season, the best players in the business. Yet again, somehow we wish, he would rise above the question of longevity. He already has, but tennis craves for more of Nadal; that hunger is never ending, the hunger is persistent in all of us.

And Rafael Nadal seems hungry once more.

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