22 Grand Slam titles. Countless unforgettable moments. Rafael Nadal’s legendary status in tennis cannot be overstated.
Rafael Nadal on Thursday withdrew from the French Open and announced that 2024 will likely be his last season in tennis after a career that has brought him 22 Grand Slam titles.
When Nadal retires, it will no doubt mark the end of an era. But lucky for us, even though his retirement is inevitable, he has left us countless incredible on-court memories that many will remember for a long time to come.
Let’s recall six of the Spaniard’s greatest Slam finals:
2005 French Open: Nadal vs. Mariano Puerta
Nadal wins: 6-7 (7/6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5
This is the match that started it all.
Nadal came in as an 18-year-old left-hander on the rise, with a huge top-spin forehand and expectations to match. He won all three clay-court lead-up tournaments, in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome and there was a buzz around Nadal as he took to the court in a sleeveless shirt, prowling like a young matador.
He blasted through the draw taking out Richard Gasquet, Sebastien Grosjean, and David Ferrer.
But the real test came in the semi-final against world number one Roger Federer. The pair had never met on clay.
It was Nadal’s 19th birthday and he won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Little-known Puerta of Argentina, ranked 37, was dispatched in a four-set final and Nadal would not lose another match on the Paris clay until 2009.
2008 Wimbledon: Nadal vs. Roger Federer
Nadal wins: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7/5), 6-7 (10/8), 9-7
This was a match that will be widely remembered as one of the greatest tennis matches of all time. It went to Nadal after an incredible four hours, 48 minutes of action.
Scheduled for a 2 PM start, the final began late because of rain, had two more rain delays, and ended in light so bad that the Hawk-Eye line-calling system had ceased to work.
Federer clawed back a two-set deficit and saved two match points in the fourth set to take it the distance.
The sheer quality of tennis was like nothing seen before until Federer finally erred, finding the net at 9:21 pm to hand Nadal, who fell on his back onto the grass in relief, his first Wimbledon triumph.
2009 Australian Open: Nadal vs. Roger Federer
Nadal wins: 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-2
Rafael Nadal again came out on top against Federer, this time in a five-set, four-and-a-half-hour thriller.
Unbelievably, the match started less than 24 hours after Nadal had been extended to five hours and 14 minutes in beating countryman Fernando Verdasco in a five-set semi-final.
Nadal’s incredible feat of recovery and stamina delayed Federer from tying Pete Sampras’s then-record of 14 Grand Slam titles and also gave Nadal his first Australian Open.
2012 Australian Open: Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic
Nadal loses: 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5
This was one of four Grand Slam final defeats for Rafael Nadal, but a true epic that will be forever etched in the memory.
The match was the ultimate test of endurance and skill as it unfolded over five hours and 53 minutes of tennis of the highest quality between the world number one Djokovic and second-ranked Nadal.
When it finally ended at 1:37 am Monday local time — the longest Grand Slam final in history — both players were almost out on their feet.
The pair traded brutal blows all night — one energy-draining 31-shot rally caused Djokovic to fall at the end and Nadal to tumble over the sidelines.
“This one was very special,” Nadal said. “Not because I lost, no, because of the way that we played.”
During the trophy presentation, both players needed to sit down. They were totally exhausted.
2013 US Open: Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic
Nadal wins: 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Rafael Nadal had seven months out to rest his creaking, injured knees, missing two major Grand Slams, the 2012 US Open, and the 2013 Australian Open. But he took the world of tennis by storm on his return.
The Spaniard won 60 of 64 matches, 22 of them on hard courts not thought to favor the “King of Clay”, lifted 10 titles, two of them Grand Slams (French Open, US Open), and registered his sixth win over Djokovic in seven matches.
Again the quality of the tennis was that of dreams.
One rally lasted for 54 shots — 20 more than any other in the tournament — as Nadal won in three hours and 21 minutes of pulsating action.
2022 Australian Open: Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev
Nadal wins: 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5
The 35-year-old Rafael Nadal claimed a 21st Grand Slam title with a stunning comeback against Medvedev.
He became the first man in the Open era to win the Australian Open from two sets down and also saved three break points in the third set.
Medvedev said Nadal’s performance was “unreal” after coming out second-best in a grueling match that lasted five hours and 24 minutes.
It was the second time Nadal had defeated Medvedev in a major final after another five-set epic went his way in New York in 2019.
Banner image from Roland Garros on Twitter.
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