August 7, 2020
Rafael Nadal has had time to reflect upon the five greatest moments of his career so far.
The brilliant Spaniard isn’t going to America to play the US Open this time around. He appears to be focusing on the French Open instead.
But one of his successes at Flushing Meadows does feature in his top three highlights.
So does his extraordinary victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2008.
How we would love another final between Federer and Nadal at Wimbledon 2021!
You wouldn’t expect the King of Clay to leave Roland Garros out of his list of finest moments.
And his first victory there is still so precious to him.
Nadal explained: ‘If I really had to choose three it would probably be Roland Garros 2005, Wimbledon 2008, and US Open 2013.
‘And of course the Australian Open in 2009 and maybe the Davis Cup in 2004, that was a very special moment.’
Rafa still savours his first Roland Garros and maiden Grand Slam triumph in 2005. All those intense feelings were so new.
Nadal beat Mariano Puerta 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 in that French Open final.
But perhaps an even bigger achievement in that tournament was to celebrate his 19th birthday by beating Federer in the semi-final.
Rafa overcame Roger 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. H didn’t seem to mind the pressure at all. Perhaps it was the fearlessness of youth.
Nadal explained: ‘I was brimming with energy, the lack of awareness of someone so young and clearly I was capable of reading important balls that were very difficult, returning them with power, with intensity and playing with enormous passion.’
‘The final was a difficult match but physically I felt amazing and I was confident with my game because I had won previous tournaments (in Monte Carlo and Rome). That gave me peace of mind and confidence.’
That Roland Garros title was the first of four in a row and now he has twelve.
But Rafa’s amazing triumph at Wimbledon 2008 is regarded by many as the greatest tennis match of all time.
No wonder Rafa counts that 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7 win over Federer as a collector’s item in his own sparkling career.
The match finished in near darkness after four hours and forty-eight minutes of dramatic action. There was no Centre Court roof back then, so rain delays left us in further suspense as the sun went down.
Federer had won five Wimbledons in a row and Nadal had just won the French for a fourth time in succession. Beating Federer emphatically in Paris had left mental scars on Roger.
The great Swiss explained: ‘He had crushed me in a terrible way. So when I went into that Wimbledon final I thought: “Oh my God this is going to be difficult.”
‘Took me a couple of sets to shake it off.’
The fourth-set tie-break is regarded as one of the biggest thrillers of all time. John McEnroe declared this Wimbledon final as ‘The greatest match ever played.’
Nadal finally broke in the fifteenth game of the final set and held to leave Federer in tears. Roger’s brave comeback had won him nothing but it did make the contest truly historic.
Will Wimbledon 2021 serve up similar drama? We hope so!
To understand why Rafa includes the 2013 US Open final in his top three, we need to remember how he had been written off due to career-threatening injuries not long before.
Even Nadal had thought about quitting during seven months out to rest his troublesome knees.
So victory was sweet indeed when Rafa defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in New York.
‘It is very, very emotional,’ he said in the aftermath. ‘All my team knows how much this means to me. Probably nobody brings my game to its limits like Novak Djokovic.’
And what of the other two greatest moments in Nadal’s career? He returns to his first taste of true success in the tennis big time.
Rafa won the Davis Cup aged just 18 when Spain beat the USA in the Estadio de la Cartuja in Seville. His 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 win over Andy Roddick helped his country to a 3-2 victory over the Americans in the final.
Nadal recalled: ‘It was the first time I competed in the Davis Cup representing my country and we played that final in front of 27,000 people.’
It was a world record at the time. As usual, Rafa took the pressure in his stride and produced the goods.
To complete his famous five, Nadal remembers another first. That was his opening Grand Slam triumph on hard courts at the Australian Open in 2009.
He beat Federer once more, his fifth successive victory against the master of tennis. That takes some doing and of course it wasn’t easy.
Nadal won an epic 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2. How many times have we seen him stay strong just when it matters most?
Rafa won’t be at the next Slam on hard courts at Flushing Meadows.