As Rafael Nadal continues his build-up for the French Open, where he will attempt to extend two huge records by winning the tournament for a 14th time and a 22nd Grand Slam in total, there is a new biography out charting his progress from the age of four at the Manacor Club Tenis in Mallorca to becoming one of the most famous and successful sporting superstars on the planet.
Author Dominic Bliss is a former tennis correspondent for the Financial Times and also ex-editor for the respected Ace Tennis magazine – and has been covering Spain’s ‘Raging Bull’ for the best past of 20 years.
You would expect the already-known biographical details to be drawn out expertly in such hands, and so they are – from Nadal’s many glorious triumphs and 91 titles, through the prodigious work ethic and renowned physical and mental strength, to the trademark tics, rituals and superstitions that have on occasion tested opponents and umpires between points. Together with arguably the most definitive set of pictures of Nadal's life and times found in one place, King of the Court makes for a fine coffee-table addition for any Nadal, tennis or sports fan.
This book will tell you much that you might already have known interspersed with plenty of well-researched new titbits on a player that has taken mastery of the clay to new and hitherto unseen levels in a career that now sees him worth around £170million.
The famous Spanish coach Jose Higueras once said “Clay teaches you how to suffer”, and with its long rallies and physical demands, often in extreme heat, Nadal has earned his way on the surface.
But the book’s most interesting aspect is picking out the 10 most career-defining victories for Nadal – and so here they are:
April 16th 2003 – Rafael beat Albert Costa in the second round at the Monte Carlo Masters 7-5, 6-3
Fellow Spaniard Costa was the reigning French Open champion, and while plenty were excited at seeing the highly promising 16-year-old in action, no one seriously expected him to win. But on the clay surface that was to become almost synonymous with his own name, Nadal – being advised by fellow Mallorcan Carlos Moya – overcame a nervous start to win running away, announcing himself on the big stage as a major player.
August 15th 2004 – beat Jose Acasuso in the final of Idea Prokom Open 6-3, 6-4
Nadal had to miss most of the clay-court season including Paris with a stress fracture in his left ankle. But this late-season event in Poland, near the beaches of the Baltic coast offered a chance of getting his first ATP Tour title on the board. With most higher-ranked players on the US hard-court swing Nadal, then ranked No71, took full advantage and achieved a debut success and entered the top 50 by beating Argentina’s Jose Acasuso in straight sets.
December 3rd 2004 – beat Andy Roddick in second rubber of Davis Cup final 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2
Nadal, 18, was as surprised as anyone and almost felt guilty when Spain captain Jordi Arrese selected him to play as the No2 singles man ahead of far more experienced team-mates with Carlos Moya having already put Spain 1-0 up against the USA in the final. But in front of a sell-out 27,000 crowd in Seville he overcame the loss of a first set tiebreak against world No2 to win in four epic sets. Spain went on to win the Davis Cup 3-2, heightening the significance of the win.
April 17th 2005 – beat Guillermo Coria in final of Monte Carlo Masters 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5
In an amazing calendar year for Nadal, this was his first Masters series title – and there would be far more success to come during the months that followed. Argentina’s Guillermo Coria did what no one else had managed - including Gael Monfils and Gaston Gaudio - by taking a set off the Spaniard – but that was as far as it went. Nadal was very aware of what he had done. He said: “My first very important title, no? And if I improve my shots, I can win a lot of matches.” Prophetic words.
June 5th 2005 – beat Mariano Puerta in the final of the French Open 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5
Before winning his first French Open title, suggesting Nadal would go on to win 13 might have seen you locked up. But as his level on clay continued to rise, Roger Federer and David Ferrer were among mmhis victims en route to the final. With regular explosions of ‘Vamos!’, Nadal overcame the loss of the first set to Argentina’s Mariano Puerta to win his first Slam. He was presented with the trophy by Zinedine Zidane, and celebrated in a Champs Elysee night-club.
July 6th 2008 – beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon final 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.
A first Wimbledon title was achieved against the greatest ever exponent of tennis on that surface in Roger Federer - who had beaten him in the final 12 months previously - in a truly epic match that lasted a total of four hours and 48 minutes, finished at 9.18pm in a contest badly affected by rain delays, and was hailed by many as the greatest ever at Wimbledon or even in tennis generally. Nadal fulfilled a dream with his win.
Aug 17th 2008 – beat Fernando Gonzalez in Olympic final 6-3, 7-6, 6-3
Views vary on the true significance of Olympic gold to sportspeople that grow up dreaming, unlike track and field athletes or rowers, of success in other arenas. But there can be no doubt that Nadal both fully embraced the experience of being part of Spain’s team, and also that it helped him oust Roger Federer as world No1 after four and a half years – and join a club of two with Andre Agassi to have won all four Slams and Olympic gold in their careers.
Sep 13th 2010 – beat Novak Djokovic in US Open final 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2
This capped Nadal’s finest year. He had already won Slams on clay and grass in Paris and London, and in New York became the first man to win Slam singles titles on those surfaces and a hard court in the same year in history. In a final postponed to the Monday due to bad weather, it was then interrupted for another two hours. But it was Nadal that emerged victorious in a clash of fiece intensity.
Oct 11th 2020 – beat Novak Djokovic in French Open final 6-0, 6-2, 7-5
With so few spectators allowed due to restrictions around the Covid pandemic, there was almost an eerie atmosphere during the presentation to Nadal of a 13th trophy at Roland Garros, and tying Roger Federer’s career total of 20 Slams. But that did not detract either from a performance that saw Nadal destroy Novak Djokovic, nor the gargantuan achievements.
Jan 30th 2002 – beat Daniil Medvedev in Aus Open final 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5
He clearly couldn’t leave it at 20 – and this marked not only one of the great comebacks in Nadal’s career and tennis history, but the day the Spaniard became the greatest player men’s tennis has seen – at least in terms of the tournaments that matter most. Russia’s Daniil Medvedev looked home and hosed at two sets up. But with a herculean effort Nadal dug impossibly deep to claim thay record-breaking 21st major.
‘Rafa Nadal – King of the Court’ is written by Dominic Bliss and published by Ivy Press – hardback edition available in book shops and online at £20.