January 18, 2021
Rafael Nadal has now been a top-ten star for 800 weeks on the bounce.
Just think about that for a moment. We’re talking a long, long time.
If you ran together the durations of the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the Falklands War, you still wouldn’t come close to the time Nadal has spent at the top as a sporting warrior.
What is 800 weeks? Well, it’s 15.432 calendar years, to be precise. Yes, more than fifteen years of stubbornly brilliant tennis intensity and consistency.
And Nadal will still be right up there when he returns to London for Wimbledon 2021.
No one else has been ranked among the very best for quite so long. Not without slipping down the ladder to some significant degree.
It speaks of a special fighting spirit. Nadal is legendary in that department.
We all remember his triumph over Roger Federer at Wimbledon 2008. Perhaps the greatest tennis match of all time.
Centre Court was bathed in twighlight when Rafa finally lifted the trophy. Photo-flashes lit up the darkening sky like the lightning we had just seen crackling off his racquet.
The inspirational Spaniard has continued to make history.
That classic was just one of many epic marathons that have kept Nadal up where he belongs.
But there have been plenty more painful battles off-court, as he fought hard to overcome injury and rebuild his confidence.
Mind and body recovered just as he was being written off.
In the summer of 2015, Rafa flirted with “obscurity” at world number ten.
In the winter of 2016-2017, there were fresh fears. His body complained for long enough to see him drop to number nine.
Each time, he refused to give in to the aches and pains, or indeed the crises in confidence they brought on.
Ultimately, Nadal has stayed where he belonged. Either at the very top or near as dammit.
Of course, being an obsessive perfectionist, Rafa would have loved to spend more than 209 weeks as world number one.
His 361 weeks at number two only gave him further motivation, you suspect, with the summit so close.
But with great players like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Britain’s own Andy Murray around, it was never going to be plain sailing all the way for Nadal.
Rafa has spent 37 weeks at number three, 54 weeks at number four, and 66 weeks at number five. But he has always been there or thereabouts.
He has experienced a smattering of weeks ranked six to ten, as he found his feet after various physical setbacks. And of course he had to break into the elite in the first place.
Nadal first entered the top ten way back in April 2005, aged just eighteen.
In another chart, “Amarillo” was flying high. Remember Tony Christie’s gritty vocals and comical strutting of Peter Kay at number one?Doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?
And ever since, Rafael Nadal has been a top-ten attraction in our beautiful sport.
It’s tempting to imagine that you can automatically maintain those high levels, as long as you possess the raw talent early on.
Yet no other player in ATP history has managed 800 consecutive weeks in the top ten.
Jimmy Connors came closest back in the day, with 789 weeks before age caught up with him.
The imperious Federer lasted almost as long with 734 weeks. Close, but not Nadal.
Djokovic might have been right up there after enjoying considerable predominance between 2007 and 2017.
But the elbow injury he suffered, before storming back again, means that realistically Novak will never beat Nadal’s record. He is in good company, though.
Ivan Lendl lasted 619 weeks in the top ten and Pete Sampras 565. These stars are all tennis giants.
And maybe it’s only when we reflect upon that illustrious list of rivals that we can realise just what Rafael Nadal has achieved this week.
Rafa. The 800-week marathon man.
He hasn’t finished, of course. There’s the Australian Open just around the corner. Rafa will be one of the favourites.
He’s hardly likely to slip into obscurity at his favourite French Open, either. Then comes the greatest tournament of them all, Wimbledon 2021.
As if Nadal wasn’t already guaranteed a massively warm reception! Now there are 800 consecutive weeks – and counting – to bear in mind when we prepare Rafa’s Wimbledon welcome.
Congratulations, legend! Slightly under 800 words of fan-mail here. Plenty of admiration. Yet still not quite one word for every week you’ve been a superstar.
And that’s just another little illustration of what you’ve achieved!
It’s probably enough just to say the tennis world loves you.
And Wimbledon 2021 will show Nadal just how much he’s revered.
When he steps out onto Centre Court at the All England Club in a few months’ time, he’ll hear. He’ll know.