‘An important part of my life is leaving too,’ says emotional Rafael Nadal (R) as he arrives at the court of Ivan Lendl (not pictured) for the Davis Cup final with Spain. Photograph: Pablo Cala/AP
When Nadal’s mother, Artyom, took this photo of Rafael, the 11-year-old prodigy was just 13 months into his first year at school. The Nadal family had spent time during Rafael’s first few years in Brazil getting to know the country and the tennis. The Nadals arrived in the morning and returned in the evening, to the extent that when Rafael’s father, Luis, had to get his 12-year-old son a flight home, he persuaded his wife, Artyom, to take a taxi to the airport.
It was the first time they had been abroad, but Rafael would remember this as a time when they really saw it and experienced it. By the time Rafael was 11, he started playing competitive tennis at a level he considered good. When he turned 11, he was already one of the youngest players and players in the world.
And Rafael Nadal? The boy who was once one of the greatest tennis players in the world is currently at his best.
Last year, when Rafael started to win big tournaments in the past three years, he became the first Grand Slam champion in Brazil since the country’s first tennis champion, Nautico Lima, in 1930.
In many ways, Rafael Nadal could be considered the second best tennis player in the modern history of that country. His dad was also the only one to win an Olympic gold medal and, after a failed doping test, he was the only athlete to win two Olympic gold medals in one given year.
But he was also still relatively young when he started to win titles and he is in fact one of the youngest Grand Slam champions of all time. I think this is a testament to his career, a career that, in many ways, has always been as much about overcoming his own weaknesses as he has about developing his talents as a player.
In some ways, Rafael has always been a very humble person. But more so than that, he has always been a very serious and dedicated person.