Rafael Nadal’s journey towards greatness started at a young age. After winning an Under-12 regional tennis championship in his hometown of Mallorca at the age of eight, the Spaniard climbed through the junior circuit rapidly and turned professional when he was just 15 years old.
He made his Grand Slam debut, aged 16, in 2003 at Wimbledon, and ended up reaching the third round. By the time the 2005 French Open came around, he had already climbed to No 5 in the ATP rankings. He won his first Major at Roland Garros that year, with a memorable victory against top seed Roger Federer in the semi-finals (which was, incidentally, played on his 19th birthday).
Nadal hasn’t looked back since and has broken a number of records in the past decade and a half. The 19-time Major winner has won a staggering 12 French Opens to go with one Australian Open, two Wimbledons and four US Opens to his name.
What was special about the youngster? Did he always harbour ambitions to be a serial winner?
In an April 2003 interview in Manacor, published on Olympic Channel’s YouTube account, a 16-year-old Nadal talks about his ambitions and how he plans to achieve them.
Here are excerpts from that interview:
“Well, I guess it would be to go as far as I can, to become a great tennis player. It’s difficult, I just have to keep working hard every day. I know it won’t be easy. Just training hard every day is tough, there’s so much high-level competition out there. Normally, when I play in tournaments, because I’m younger than everyone else, I always think they must be much better than me. But then you get on the court and because I’m a fighter and I really hate losing, things tend to level out.”
Other than tennis...
“I love football. I played it quite seriously until I was 11 or 12 and I liked it just as much as tennis, maybe even more. And I still love watching it on TV more than tennis. I like going to the cinema, going out with friends. I like football a lot. Sometimes I also like having a night out with my friends. And more than anything just being at home with my family. Of course I like travelling and going to tournaments, but I also like taking a break here.”
“At the moment, I’m only ranked 112th in the world so there’s a long way to go. I’ve got to continue improving but it’s not going to be easy.”
The video also shows Nadal’s uncle Toni, who has coached him from the start, talk about what made him stand out from a young age.
“His most important quality is his mental toughness, he’s a real fighter,” said Toni. “He’s always been a strong competitor and he plays with a lot of heart.”
Watch this interview of a 16-year-old Nadal here: