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Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal
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Rafael "Rafa" Nadal Parera (born June 3, 1986, in Manacor, Mallorca) is a Spanish tennis player. As of October 2006, he is the World No. 2. Nadal's clay-court winning streak stands at 62 matches, the longest among male players in the open era. He has won two consecutive French Open singles titles.
In 2002, the 15-year-old Nadal won his first ATP match, defeating Ramon Delgado in Majorca to become the ninth player in the open era to win an ATP match before his 16th birthday. In 2003, Nadal became the second-youngest player to be ranked among the world's top 100 singles players. He finished the year in the top 50, winning two Challenger titles. At his Wimbledon debut, Nadal, then 17, became the youngest male player to reach the third round since 16-year-old Boris Becker in 1984. 2005 was Nadal's breakthrough year. At the Australian Open, he reached the fourth round and pushed the eventual runner-up, Lleyton Hewitt, to five sets. Two months later, he reached the final of the Miami Masters tournament — indeed, was three points away from victory in straight sets — but was defeated in five sets by the world's #1 player, Roger Federer. Shifting to the clay court season, Nadal won two ATP Masters Series events in Monte Carlo and Rome. At one point in the year, Nadal won 24 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak of any teenager in the open era, topping Andre Agassi's run of 23 matches in 1988. By May 2005, Nadal had reached the top 5 in the world rankings, becoming the youngest player to break into the top 10 since Andrei Medvedev in 1993.
Nadal entered his first French Open among the favorites. He beat two of France's local hopes, Sebastien Grosjean and Richard Gasquet, to reach the semifinals. On his 19th birthday, he defeated Federer, preventing the Swiss from achieving a career Grand Slam. Two days later, he became the fourth-youngest French Open champion in the open era, defeating Argentina's Mariano Puerta in the final. He became the seventh player to win a Grand Slam in his first appearance at the event and the first since Agassi at the 1995 Australian Open. He also became the first teenager to win a Grand Slam singles title since Pete Sampras won the 1990 U.S. Open at age 19. Nadal is the first teenager to win at least six titles in a year since Agassi in 1988 at the age of 18. Three days after his victory in Paris, his winning streak was snapped on the grass courts of Halle, Germany, where he was beaten by German Alexander Waske in the first round. He suffered another disappointment at Wimbledon, where he was eliminated in the second round by Gilles Müller of Luxembourg. Nadal started his 2005 hardcourt season by defeating Agassi in the final of the Canada Masters. Nadal was seeded second at the U.S. Open but was eliminated in the third round by American James Blake in four sets. Despite the loss, his second seeding and third round performance were both career highs. After the U.S. Open, Nadal won two more hard court tournaments. In September, he defeated Guillermo Coria in the final of the China Open in Beijing, and in October, he won his fourth Masters Series event, defeating Ivan Ljubicic in five sets in the final of the Madrid Masters. He then suffered a foot injury that kept him out of the Tennis Masters Cup in 2005 and the start of 2006, causing him to miss the Australian Open. Overall, Nadal matched world No. 1 Roger Federer's standard in ATP titles won in a single season, eleven, and Masters Series events won, four. He won 79 matches in 2005, second only to Federer's 81.
The fierce rivalry between Nadal and Roger Federer has continued long into 2006. In March 2006, Nadal handed Federer his first loss of the year at the final in Dubai, winning 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Nadal defeated Federer again at the Monte Carlo Masters by a score of 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. The two squared off again in the Rome Masters final. There, it seemed as though Federer might finally defeat his nemesis, thereby ending Nadal's streak of consecutive clay court matches. However, Nadal fought off two match points and won 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6. Nadal broke Argentinian Guillermo Vilas's 29-year record of 53 consecutive clay court match victories after defeating Robin Soderling in the first round of the 2006 French Open. Following the victory, Nadal was presented with a trophy containing the cross section of the construction of a clay court. Vilas was on hand for the ceremony, although Vilas has refused to acknowledge Nadal's feat as more impressive than his own.
The French Open final was hotly anticipated, pitting No. 1 Federer against No. 2 Nadal. For Federer, the French Open was the missing link in a career Grand Slam and in holding all four majors simultaneously. For Nadal, the task of defending his French Open title, as well as maintaining a dominant winning record against Federer, was enormous, something that no other player has accomplished thus far. Though Nadal was the favorite based on his clay court ability, Federer was the overwhelming favorite with the raucous French crowd. Everyone expected a highly competitive match, much like the ones they had played in the last three Masters Series tournaments. Yet, the first two sets were hardly competitive, as the rivals traded 6-1 sets. Nadal steamrolled over Federer through sets 3 and 4, when Federer finally broke Nadal's serve deep in the fourth set as he was serving for the match and forced a tiebreak, which Nadal won. With an undefeated 2006 clay court season, Nadal firmly stamped himself as the dominant clay court player in the world and as the only player able to beat Federer consistently. Nadal withdrew due to a shoulder injury against Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals of Queens Club, a Wimbledon tune-up tournament. Seeded No. 2 going into Wimbledon, Nadal reached the finals, securing a match against Federer by beating Marcos Baghdatis in the semifinals. During his run, Nadal was two points from defeat against American qualifier Robert Kendrick in the second round before coming back to win in five sets. Nadal also defeated Andre Agassi in the third round, in Agassi's final match at Wimbledon. All seven of the previous Nadal/Federer encounters had been played on either clay or hard courts; however, Wimbledon is played on a grass surface, which is Federer's preferred surface, having won the title for three consecutive years. Though Nadal played well in the final after a sluggish start, he fell in four sets, 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, cementing Federer's position at the top of the world rankings. Despite the loss, Nadal well exceeded most expectations just by reaching the finals, winning more matches at the tournament than he had ever won on grass before (he had been just 3-3 on grass before the tournament).
At the 2006 U.S. Open, Nadal achieved his best result at the tournament so far by reaching the quarterfinals, where he lost to Russian Mikhail Youzhny in four sets. Nadal failed, however, to reach the fourth round of his next tournament, the Stockholm Open, where he lost to Joachim Johansson 6-4, 7-6. Nadal also lost in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Masters, where he was defeated by Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-6 for the third time. After the tournament, Nadal blamed mental and physical exhaustion for his recent losses. During the round robin stage of the Tennis Masters Cup, Nadal lost to James Blake but defeated Nikolay Davydenko and Tommy Robredo. Nadal reached the semifinals as the second place finisher in his group, where he lost to Federer in straight sets. This was Nadal's third loss in nine career matches with Federer.

Grand Slam singles finals

Year Championship Position Opponent Score
2005 French Open Champion Mariano Puerta 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5
2006 French Open Champion Roger Federer 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6
2006 Wimbledon Runner-Up Roger Federer 6-0, 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 6-3

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