The English language runs out of superlatives when it comes to describing the incredible feats of tennis legend Rafael Nadal. At the age of 36, the Spaniard continues to fight, endure and create incredible moments in the sport that will certainly put him down in history books as one of the greatest ever to have played the sport. Nadal wrapped a splendid 2022 ATP season up by winning the ITF’s Men’s World Champion award earlier this month.
Despite being plagued by injuries throughout his career and having fans and experts question his longevity on several occasions, the King of Clay, with his ‘never back down’ philosophy, has smashed problems out of the court and continued building his iconic legacy. The Spaniard continues to endure and enjoy playing the sport at the highest level, still amusing audiences worldwide with his cheeky and audacious strokes.
The best moment of the year for Nadal this year could possibly be one that was away from court as the 36-year-old became a father of a baby boy in October. On court, the Spaniard continued to display performances that were awe-inspiring and record-breaking. After an abrupt end to his 2021 season with a foot injury, many thought it would be the end of Nadal’s career. However, the concerns and critics were quitened after the King of Clay came out all guns blazing in 2022 to claim the first two Grand Slams of the year, taking his total tally of Grand Slam titles to 22, the highest by any man to have played the sport.
Before his 36th birthday, Nadal enthralled the spectators at the Rod Laver Arena and also the millions watching worldwide as he overcame a two-set deficit to win the Australian Open. The odds were stacked up against the Spaniard as this was the first time he had won a final being two-sets-to-love down in his entire career. Nadal was tied with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at 20 Grand Slam titles before the Australian Open glory. As he edged ahead of the two iconic players, the Spaniard became only the second player in the the Open Era, after Djokovic, to win the double career slam (to win each Grand Slam twice).
Nadal suffered a stress fracture on one of his left ribs at Indian Wells in his semi-final match against compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, which forced him off the tour for another month and a half. He returned to tour for the clay season but could not win a single title on his favorite surface, with a resurgence of his left foot ailment.
This meant that Nadal entered the French Open without a title for the first time since 2005. He went on to win Roland Garros, which was a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title. The Spaniard extended other records such as the most number of Roland Garros titles after clinching his 14th. He also extended his win-loss record to 112-3 at the tournament and became the oldest man to win the French Open title at 36 years old. The Spaniard extended his French Open finals streak to 14-0.
Yet again, a dismal moment followed success for Nadal as an abdominal tear put a damper on the champions’ hope for a Calendar Slam as he was forced to withdraw from the Wimbledon semi-final meaning American Francis Tiafoe became the only man to defeat Nadal at a Grand Slam in 2022 at the US Open.
Nadal did not finish the year in the same fashion as he began. His performances at the Paris Masters and ATP Finals were quite disappointing. But the great Spaniard continued to create records as he became the only man ever to spend 900 consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the men’s ranking.
He also finished the 2022 season as World No. 2, while becoming the oldest year-end world number two in the history of ATP rankings and leading the race for most singles grand slam titles with 22 to Djokovic’s 21. Throughout the year, he also created records for most titles won without losing a set on the ATP Tour (30), most wins at the ATP 500 tournaments (117), and most wins at the ATP Masters 1000 (406).
The Spaniard won his first Fan’s Favorite Award at the ATP awards, adding to his full set of player-voted awards already – Newcomer (2003), Most Improved (2005), Comeback (2013), and Sportsmanship (2010, 2018-2021) – in addition to the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award (2011) and ATP No. 1 presented by Pepperstone (2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019).
The Spanish tennis icon has given no indication of retirement from the tour as yet, despite his rival of more than 15 years Roger Federer bidding farewell to the tour in 2022. With stiff competition from old rival Novak Djokovic, who also shows no indication of slowing down, and new prodigies like Carlos Alcaraz, it remains to be seen how Rafael Nadal fares in 2023. But one thing is for sure, that Nadal will forever go down in history as the greatest fighter the sport has seen.