By Jürgen Fritz, Thurs 29 Apr 2021, Cover picture: ATP Tennis TV-Screenshot
Nadal’s victory in Barcelona on Sunday was not only his twelfth at this tournament and 87th title overall, it was also his first this year. This marks the eighteenth consecutive year that he has won at least one ATP tournament each season. No other player in the history of the Open Era since 1968 has ever achieved this.
2004: This is how it all began
It is 15 August 2004 and an ATP tournament is being held on clay courts in the northern Polish town of Sopot on the Baltic Sea. In the final is a young Spaniard named Rafael Nadal, who just turned 18 two months earlier. But the teenager is already no stranger. He is already ranked 71st in the ATP rankings, and in January he reached his first ATP tournament final on hard court in Auckland. There he lost to Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 2-6, 5-7. Then, at the end of March, he had met the world No. 1, Roger Federer, the reigning Wimbledon, ATP Finals and Australian Open champion, in R32 at the Masters 1000 tournament in Miami. And lo and behold, the then still 17-year-old caused the first sensation: he beat the outstanding player of 2004, who had not had a good day, 6-3, 6-3 on hard court. Even before that, some Spaniards had said: „We’ve had many very good tennis players, but Rafa is the greatest talent we’ve ever had.“
In April, the 17-year-old was injured and had to take a break for more than two and a half months before returning to the tour in July. So, a month later, he was in his second final of a men’s professional tournament. His opponent was Jose Acasuso from Argentina. And this time he managed to win the final as well, beating Acasuso 6-3, 6-4. This was Rafael Nadal’s first tournament win. But umpteen more were to follow.
2005: The first Masters 1000 and the first Grand Slam victory
Six months later, in February 2005, he won his second tournament – again on clay – in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil. And from then on it was one after the other: Only one week later, Nadal won his third tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, now for the first time in a tournament of the D category. He had won his first two titles in E tournaments. And in April 2005, his first Masters 1000 title (C category) followed. In Monte Carlo, he beat Guillermo Coria, one of the two or three best sand players in the world, in the final. And just one week later he won his first Barcelona title (D) with a final victory over the 2003 French Open winner Juan Carlos Ferrero. This was followed in May by the Rome title (C), again with a final victory over Guillermo Coria, whom the 18-year-old Rafa downed 8-6 in a fifth-set tiebreak after 5:14 hrs.
Then, at the beginning of June, on his 19th birthday, Nadal reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros (A), the biggest clay tournament in the world. He beat the world No. 1 again and also gave the Argentine Mariano Puerta no chance in the final, now claiming his first Grand Slam title.
Nadal wins at least one tournament every year from 2004 to 2020
19 more were to follow, the last in October 2020, again at Roland Garros, when he really destroyed Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, who was actually playing well, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in the final. That was not just a victory, that was a demonstration.
But in the intervening years, Nadal achieved something that no player in the Open Era since 1968 has ever managed: he won at least one tournament every season from 2004 to 2020, a total of 17 years in a row, and even at least two every year from 2005 onwards. This meant that he was already the world record holder.
The 18th year
Last Sunday, Nadal reached his first final of the year. It was his twelfth final in Barcelona. He had won all the first eleven. But now his opponent was Stefanos Tsitsipas. He had won his first Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo the week before and had reached the final in Barcelona without losing a single set, just like in Monaco. In Monte Carlo, Nadal had already lost to Rublev in the quarter-finals and had also struggled at the beginning in Barcelona. It was obvious that Rafa was not nearly at one hundred percent of his capacity after his back injury and the long break from playing since February. But Nadal managed to improve more and more from match to match and even in the final game itself, after already being 2-4 down, he was able to step up again and gave Tsitsipas, who was in blinding form, a great fight.
The match was to be the longest best-of-three match of the year. And in the end, after 3:38 h, the winner was Rafael Nadal, who had defeated the enormously strong Greek 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 after defending a match point. It was Rafa’s twelfth victory in Barcelona, his 87th tournament win ever. And in doing so, he also broke his own world record by winning at least one tournament for the 18th year in a row.
Nadal’s ATP titles
- 2004: 1
- 2005: 11
- 2006: 5
- 2007: 6
- 2008: 8
- 2009: 5
- 2010: 7
- 2011: 3
- 2012: 4
- 2013: 10
- 2014: 4
- 2015: 3
- 2016: 2
- 2017: 6
- 2018: 5
- 2019: 4
- 2020: 2 (pandemic season, which could only be played 50 to 60 per cent)
- 2021: 1 (as of the end of April)
results in a total of 87 tournament victories, including:
- 13 Roland Garros-title
- 12 in Barcelona
- 11 in Monte Carlo
- 9 in Rom
- 5 in Madrid
- 5 in Canada
Years in a row with at least one tournament win
- Rafael Nadal: 18 ==> 2004 – 2021
- Novak Djokovic: 16 ==> 2006 – 2021
- Roger Federer: 15 ==> 2001 – 2015 (+3 ==> 2017 – 2019)
- Ivan Lendl: 14 ==> 1980 – 1993
- Jimmy Connors: 13 ==> 1972 – 1984 (+2 ==> 1988 – 1989)
- Andy Murray: 12 ==> 2006 – 2017 (+1 ==> 2019)
- Boris Becker: 12 ==> 1985 – 1996
- Stefan Edberg: 12 ==> 1984 – 1995
- Pete Sampras: 11 ==> 1990 – 2000 (+1 ==> 2002)
- Guillermo Vilas: 11 ==> 1973 – 1983
Andre Agassi did not manage to win at least one tournament every year for more than a decade, but he managed something else remarkable. He first won at least one tournament every season for 10 years from 1987 to 1996, then another 8 years in a row from 1998 to 2005.
- Andre Agassi: 10 ==> 1987 – 1996 (+8 ==> 1998 – 2005)
- Ilie Nastase: 10 ==> 1969 – 1978
The three giants of men’s tennis Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales had the misfortune that the Open Era only began when they were already 29 and 33 years old respectively. Gonzales, the greatest player of the 1950s, was even 40 when the major tournaments were opened to professionals. Their series are also highly impressive.
- Rod Laver: 9 ==> 1968 – 1976 (+7 as an amateur 1956 – 1962, +5 as a professional before the start of the Open Era 1963 – 1967. So Laver won at least one tournament every season over a total period of 21 years, but the first 7 years without competition from the more competitive professionals and the middle 5 years without competition from the less competitive but much more numerous amateurs.)
- John McEnroe: 9 ==> 1978 – 1986 (+4 ==> 1988 – 1991)
- Thomas Muster: 8 ==> 1990 – 1997 (+2 ==> 1986, 1988)
- Björn Borg: 8 ==> 1974 – 1981
- Mats Wilander: 7 ==> 1982 – 1988
- Ken Rosewall: 6 ==> 1968 – 1973 (+3 ==> 1975 – 1977, +1 as an amateur 1951, +4 as an amateur 1953 – 1956, +11 as a professional before the start of the Open Era 1957 – 1967. So Rosewall won at least one tournament every season in a row 21 years from 1953 – 1973, but the first 4 years without competition from the more competitive professionals and the middle 11 years without competition from the less competitive but much more numerous amateurs. In total, with two interruptions in 1952 and 1974, he won tournaments over a period of 27 years from 1951 to 1977, i.e. in 25 calendar years.)
- Pancho Gonzales: 5 ==> 1968 – 1972 (+2 as an amateur 1948 – 1949, +12 as a professional before the start of the Open Era 1950 – 1961, +4 in 1964 – 1967. Gonzales won at least one tournament in each of 23 years over a total period of 25 calendar years (1948 to 1972).
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