The King of Clay as most call him, Rafael Nadal is a tennis legend. He’s won 14 grand slams (9 at the French Open, 2 at Wimbledon and the US Open each, and 1 at the Australian Open), 27 Masters series titles, a gold medal at the ’08 Olympics, among many other accomplishments. And so far, that’s not the end. Or is it?
Born in 1986, Nadal took up tennis at the very young age of 3, coached by his uncle Toni, and turned pro at 15. He won his first title in 2004 and first grand slam the next year, beginning his dominance of the red surface. It wasn’t until 2008 that he became the World No.1 for the first time and repeated the feat in 2010 and also 2013.
Fast forward to now, many have begun questioning how much longer he can stay at the top level after having a terrible 2015 campaign, in which he’d won 0 grand slams for the first time since 2004 and sunk all the way down to 10 in the world at one point. But this is a man who’s made a career of grinding it out on court and never giving up. Even though he’s now gone two years since his last major title, many expect him to still compete in all the slams but mostly at the French he’d dominated for so long..
Suggestions have been made for how Nadal can extend his career for years to come. The biggest one has been with adjusting his playing style. As a clay court specialist initially he was mostly one to counterpunch on court, making the other guy work that much harder to win points because of his stamina. This style has led to multiple injuries in his knees that kept him out of the game for months at a time and those in the tennis community say this wear and tear will force him to retire at a younger than normal age. A more recent move that’s been called for is abandoning his uncle Toni as coach and following the trend of hiring former top players to add something new to his game, with fellow players Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Roger Federer already having done it.
Whatever Rafael Nadal chooses to do, even he realizes that his time on the top may be coming to a close at the age of 29. And maybe his best days really are behind him. Only time will tell.
(Update: He defeated Gael Monfils in the Monte Carlo Masters on 4/17 and now has a tally of 28 Masters titles)