November 4, 2020
Rafael Nadal has joined an elite band of men who can boast one thousand wins on tour.
Only the great Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl had previously passed that milestone.
Then Nadal defeated his friend Feliciano Lopez 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in Paris – where else?
Perhaps it was fitting that a warrior like Rafa was made to fight so hard to join the One Thousand Club.
He was broken in his very first service game and squandered six break points in the first two sets. He was aced by Feli no fewer than 22 times.
In fact Rafa only really turned the tide of this tricky match with his aggressive approach to the tie-break.
But by the time Lopez netted to admit defeat, we knew history was being made.
Make no mistake, this is an immense achievement. Three have become four.
Realistically Nadal will probably never catch Federer on 1,242 tour wins, let alone Connors on 1,274.
But the superb Spaniard might yet eclipse Lendl, Andy Murray’s former coach, who won 1068 times before he finally retired.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Simply to have joined such a short and illustrious list of tennis legends means everything.
Rafa raised a smile with his own analysis of his achievement, though.
He explained: ‘The only negative thing is that to win one thousand matches you have to be very old. You have to have had a long career.’
And yet Nadal isn’t all that old at thirty-four. It’s just that he has been winning on tour since he was a mere fifteen years old.
In those years since his maiden victory in Marbella in 2002, Rafa has been written off many times due to injury.
To be winning still, despite numerous and various physical problems, is arguably his greatest feat.
Nadal reflected: ‘I found some challenges in my career in terms of body injuries, and I always had the passion to come back.
‘To be playing at 34 – and at the same time remaining competitive – makes me very happy and proud.’
As Rafa posed for photographers, with various visual creations marking the 1000 milestone, you couldn’t help but admire his determination.
It’s one thing to equal Federer on twenty Grand Slams. That shows a taste for the big occasion and a steely nerve under pressure.
But to join the One Thousand Club speaks of something else.
Consistency. Resilience. A true love for the game and a desire to win anywhere.
Congratulations, Rafael Nadal.
We can’t wait to see you at Wimbledon 2021.
You will return to the All England Club even greater in stature than when last you were here.
We have known for some time that you were an all-time-great. Now the numbers have caught up to reflect that greatness even more vividly.
What a warm Wimbledon welcome you’ll receive from the fans.
Who would want to miss it?