Olympic Stars - Rafael Nadal
Many believe Rafael Nadal will look back at 2008 as the year he began his domination of the world of tennis.
By Paul Higham
Last Updated: 11/08/08 11:40am
Rafael Nadal is on a roll, many believe the powerful Spanish star will look back at 2008 as the year he began his domination of the world of tennis, and it could also be the year he scooped Olympic gold.
Still only 22, Nadal has five Grand Slam titles already and crucially finally got the better of big rival Roger Federer on the Swiss star's beloved grass at Wimbledon - in what was one of the most dramatic matches ever witnessed on SW19's Centre Court.
Although Nadal had long been the claycourt master, with a phenomenal unbeaten record at the French Open which started with success in his debut and has yielded four straight titles at Rolland Garos without a single defeat against his name.
Nadal's winning streak on clay of 81 matches is the longest of any man on a single surface, while his strength and stamina are shown by stats of not one five-set defeat in over 40 matches that have gone the full distance on clay.
Federer was in Nadal's pocket in Paris, but two successive Wimbledon final defeats, plus the lack of anything more than one semi-final in the other two Slams, led many to believe that Nadal was just a 'one-trick pony' on the clay.
That was put to rights in style at this year's Wimbledon, and Nadal has built on that success and is now pushing Federer all the way in the battle to end the year as world number one.
Nadal became the just the eighth player to record 30 consecutive wins when he moved to win number 31 at the end of July in a run that saw him win five titles on three surfaces - proving his all-round ability.
The Majorcan from a sporting family was a keen footballer, being the nephew of Spain international defender Miguel Angel Nadal.
Another uncle, Toni, introduced him to tennis at the age of three and is still his coach to this day - and his early prediction of a bright future already came true when he won European and Spanish titles aged 12.
Nadal's father Sebastian refused to allow his son to move to Barcelona and financed his training himself and by the age of 16 he was ranked amongst the world's top 50.
Naturally right handed, his coach and uncle trained him to play with his left hand, and his teachings worked when Nadal was just 14 as he beat Pat Cash in an exhibition match - unsurprisingly on clay.
Widely regarded as the fittest man on the tennis circuit, Nadal can run all day and chases down shots few other players can reach - often breaking the heart of his opponent with his perseverance almost as much as his booming groundstrokes.
30 wins from 38 finals shows that Nadal loves the big stage and the momentum is all his going into the Olympics.
Federer should again be his big rival but Nadal has the edge on him recently and, barring injury, your money must be on the Rafa adding a gold medal to his already bulging trophy cabinet and possibly sparking off a long period of dominance.