FROM TALENTTO LEGEND
Being No. 1 in tennis, and at the same time so well-loved and admired both on and off the court is difficult, but Rafael Nadal has achieved it with flying colours.
An athlete who has based his career on respect, humility, effort, determination, and that sense of fun which enables him to continue writing his legend, day by day.
When the tennis player Rafael Nadal won his 12th Roland Garros last June, the journalists had a hard time finding a new term to describe his brilliant career. How could the success of the best Spanish tennis player of all time be summarised, once again? What adjective could be used for the athlete who has already exhausted the best qualifiers in the dictionary, when he is intent on continuing to write the history of international tennis?
The son of Ana María Parera and Sebastián Nadal, Rafael was born in Manacor, Mallorca, on June 3rd, 1986, into a sport-loving family. His uncle, Miguel Ángel Nadal, was a football player and played for FC Barcelona and RCD Mallorca, and his uncle, Toni Nadal, had been a tennis player.
A childhood passion
From a very early age he was passionate about sports. With the encouragement of Toni Nadal, he began to practise his first strokes with the racket when he was only three years old. As he also liked football, he did both sports. However, when he reached adolescence, he had to make a choice, faced with a foreseeable lack of time to combine two sports with his studies. He chose tennis, where he had already been winning tournaments for more than four years.
In 2004, at the age of just 18, Rafa was a member of the Spanish National Team that won the Davis Cup. A year later, in one of his first competitions as an adult, he catapulted to the top of the professional scene by winning the Roland Garros, the first of his twelve victories at the French Open. If there was any doubt about the heights he would reach, he won the tournament again the following year, and a year later he repeated the feat, going on to win two Grand Slams, the Olympic gold medal, and become world number 1 in 2008. A legend was born.
Apart from his sporting successes, Rafael Nadal is well-known for his human values. In 2008, he created the Rafa Nadal Foundation
A resilient spirit
Rafa’s successes have been repeated throughout his career, not only on clay courts, but on all surfaces. 2014, despite him winning his ninth French Open, was a complicated year due to injuries, which continued into 2015. However, Rafa’s determination and enormous capacity for hard work earned him his tenth Roland Garros in 2017, the year in which he also won his third US Open title and became number 1 again.
His injuries also complicated the end of last year, but the tennis player showed the world that he was capable of winning the French Open once again. When asked about his ability to overcome injuries and setbacks, he replies: “I’ve learned throughout my career to enjoy pain. Without pain there’s no happiness. Coping means accepting things as they are, and not as you’d like them to be. And looking forward, not backwards.”
Among Rafa’s virtues which have made him great as an athlete and as a person, are respect and humility. This is probably what has made him so internationally well-loved. “Humility is recognising your limitations. I always work with an objective, which is to improve as a player and as a person. Attitude is fundamental in life. If you never lose, you won’t enjoy the victories. You have to accept both. Losing isn’t my enemy. My enemy is the fear of losing.”
Apart from his sporting successes, Rafael Nadal is well-known for his human values. In 2008, he created the Rafa Nadal Foundation with his mother, where sport and education have become the best allies to carry out social projects with children and young people in Spain and India. “We’re working so that they have access to equal opportunities in order to make the most of their abilities and potential, regardless of their personal and social conditions,” he says.
The transformative power of sport and communication is what allows children and adolescents to go as far as they can, regardless of their origins or their personal and social conditions, including those with learning difficulties or disabilities.
Rafa is the founding trustee of the organisation, and is fully involved in the projects and charitable events this entails. Along with Rafa, the board is made up of his closest family members, as well as a multidisciplinary team who share his values of solidarity. With their work supervised by the Protectorate of Foundations, which monitors the legality of every action carried out, the Foundation is committed to three main projects.
“More than Tennis”, based on attitudes such as effort and perseverance, is focused on care for young people with intellectual disabilities. Over 200 young people are participating in this programme, in 19 schools in different locations in Spain.
In parallel, the Foundation also supports the social integration of vulnerable children in Palma de Mallorca, who are offered a supplementary programme with activities related to the socio-educational area and sports, as well as psychotherapy. Around 250 children and young people benefit from this programme every year.
Lastly, the Rafael Nadal Foundation helps young people who combine their training with studies to access scholarships granted by American universities, as well as providing additional financial aid to students who may require it, due to their economic and family situation. Since the beginning of the programme, more than 50 young people have benefitted from these scholarships.
Rafael Nadal is one of the greats in tennis history, and the Spanish tennis player with the largest number of individual titles. His sporting successes are only comparable to the honour of being so well-loved and respected off the court.