Rafael Nadal turned professional in 2001 and did not win his first ATP Tour title until 2004. He cracked the top ten for the first time on April 25th, 2005, at number seven. Exactly three months later, he got to number two in the rankings. Nadal maintained that number two ranking until August 18th, 2008 (a little over three years at the number two ranking). Who was at number one all that time? Roger Federer! His first stint at number one lasted for forty weeks. He regained the number one ranking on June 7th, 2010 for the second time in his career. His second stint at number one lasted for fifty weeks. He would regain the number one ranking on October 7th, 2013, for the third time and this time he maintained the number one ranking for thirty-four weeks.
The last time he was ranked number one was on June 23rd, 2014. Since he first broke into the top ten in 2005, Nadal has never fallen out of the top ten. This is a testament of how committed he is to the sport and his attitude of never giving up. Nadal plays every point as if his life depends on it and even when he is leading comfortably, he does not take the pressure off his opponent. That attitude is why he continues to be a top ten player twelve years after his debut.
It has not been twelve years of smooth sailing for the Spaniard though; he has had problems with his knees that on several occasions caused him to take time away from the sport. In fact, there was much speculation about how long he would be able to play given the problem with his knees and the way he moves on the tennis court. Nadal does not float along the court like Federer; he runs heavily, putting a lot of stress on his knees. He does not end points quickly with a big serve either and often has to win points in extended rallies. Thus, many thought he would retire early; however, Nadal’s moniker, “el toro”, suits him perfectly. Nadal is strong-willed and on the tennis court, he is uncompromising.
After a spectacular start at the 2016 French Open, Nadal withdrew from the tournament before the third round. He now had a new injury, his left wrist. This was much cause for worry because the wrists are vital for tennis players. The left wrist is especially important for those with a two-handed back hand. For Nadal it was doubly concerning, he plays left-handed; thus both his forehand and backhand were impacted by this injury. Now the new concern was would he be able to recover from this injury?
Nadal took some time away from the sport to heal his wrist; he returned to tennis approximately three months later to play in the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Still clearly struggling with the injury, he did not medal in singles; however, with his good buddy, Marc Lopez, he claimed the gold medal in doubles. He ended his 2016 season prematurely, in early October, to heal and recover fully for the 2017 season.
Nadal has not won more than five tournaments in a season since 2013; if he continues in his current vein, I expect that he will do so this year. That is why he is in contention for ending the year as the number one ranked male player on the ATP Tour and that is why he regains the number one ranking today.
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