Rafael Nadal is the epitome of a serial competitor, racking up 350+ wins in the ATP Masters 1000 matches. Since his breakout as an 18-year-old in 2005, Nadal has garnered a record 30+ ATP titles, going toe-to-toe with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
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With only a few years short of reaching two decades of gracing the ATP Tour series, what are some of Rafael Nadal’s stand-out moments?
With two clay-court Masters 1000 titles in each of his two previous years, Coria would prove a challenge to the then 18-year-old Nadal. Coria consolidated his advantage when he broke in the deciding set, leaving Rafael trailing 3-0 in the fifth set.
Not one to throw in the towel, Nadal rallied to defeat Guillermo 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6 and 7-6(6) in a gruelling five hours and fourteen minutes. The Monte Carlo game, played on an outdoor clay court, would mark the beginning of his dominance on clay courts.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Nadal approached the 2005 ATP Masters 1000 in Canada eager to win his first hard-court title and maintain his incredible feats.
Who stood in the way was none other than Andre Agassi, having eight Major Championships. Despite a solid effort in his first two sets, Agassi made one too many unforced mistakes, limiting his chances of a comeback.
Nadal played his best recording a 6-3, 4-6 and 6-2 triumph in 1 hour and 58 minutes to clinch his third Masters 1000 trophy.
Nadal and Djokovic went toe-to-toe in the longest three-set match in ATP Masters 1000 history. Living to any typical action-packed semi-final game, Djokovic got more points, but the Spaniard recovered three match points in the final set tiebreak to prevail 3-6, 7-6(5) and 7-6(9).
If there was a highlight of the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals, it was the match that pitted Rafael against Andy Murray.
The first set didn’t feature any single break or deuce point, and when the set was tied at 5-5, Murray won Nadal’s serve with a decent volley. However, the Brit failed to reach the Spaniard’s first drop shot, delivering the set to Nadal.
After an evenly matched game, Nadal went on to win 7-6 (5), 3-6 and 7-6 (6) in over three hours and eleven minutes.
Nadal came into the final match of the Madrid Open with an enviable 13 wins out of 20 meetings against his rival Federer. Failing to take advantage of the chances in the first set, the Swiss was made to pay when Nadal broke serve in the next game.
However, Federer fought back, using a triple break point to level the score at 2-2. The game became a close contest over two hours and eleven minutes, with Nadal claiming victory with a 6-4 and 7-6 (7/5) set win, capturing a record-breaking 18th ATP Masters crown at the time.
Fresh from injury recovery, Nadal made a statement by claiming his third victory at Indian Wells, beating Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-3 and 6-4. That’s not to say the Argentine gave the Spanish national a walkover.
Nadal was on the losing end of the first set, and the Argentine managed to save 14 of 18 breaking points but eventually couldn’t hold back the Spaniard. The Indian Wells victory capped a remarkable 14-match win streak and a 17-1 record in 2013.
2013 couldn’t get any better for Nadal, and fresh from clinching the Montreal Masters trophy, the Spanish national followed up with another ATP Masters title. By defeating Isner, Nadal joined Novak Djokovic as the only player to land five Masters 1000 titles in a year. The Mallorcan ran triumphant overpowering Isner with a 7-6(8) and 7-6(3) victory.
All was well, with Zverev commanding an early break in the third set until the rain threw a spanner into the works. In a riveting Sunday finale, a high-quality game graced the court featuring 24 rallies with at least ten shots totalling a whopping 313 shots. Nadal would win 6-1, 1-6 and 6-3.
Eager to end a nine-month trophy drought, Nadal faced a stern challenge in Djokovic at the ATP Masters 1000 Rome Final.
After 2 hours 25 minutes, Nadal emerged victorious, claiming a 6-0, 4-6 and 6-1 win while breaking a tie with Djokovic by adding a 34th ATP Masters crown to his trophy cabinet.
10. Rome 2021 vs Novak Djokovic – Matching Novak’s 36th Masters 1000 Tally
One of ATP’s most prolific rivalries, Djokovic was matched for the 9th time against Nadal at the Foro Italico, with the Mallorcan leading 3-2 before the game.
Novak was on the front foot with a mid-match surge, but Nadal had other ideas, raising his game in the second set to win 7-5, 1-6 and 6-3.
Irrespective of how Nadal finishes his court career, he will leave a mark as a legend of the racket, similar to how Michael Jordan is to basketball. Still, with a few years to go before hanging up his racket, the veteran from Mallorca has a lot to offer.