Rafael Nadal made a professional debut almost two decades ago, becoming one of the greatest players of all time in the previous 15 years. Claiming his first Masters 1000 and Major titles as a teenager in 2005, Nadal has stayed in the top-10 since April that year, enduring many setbacks due to injuries and never losing passion for the sport.

Leaving two and a half worst years of his career behind him at the beginning of 2017, Nadal entered the top-2 after lifting the title at Roland Garros that June, staying among the best players in the world ever since. Nadal’s latest success came at Roland Garros earlier in October, beating Novak Djokovic in the title match to lift the 20th Major crown and join Roger Federer at the top of the GOAT race.

After everything he has achieved on and off the court, Rafael Nadal has earned the Royal Order of Sports Merit award from the Spanish Council of Ministers. The Grand Cross is one of the most significant honors an athlete can get in Spain, with no one deserving it more than Nadal after a glorious career that is far from over.

At 34, Nadal is world no. 2 and a Major champion, staying competitive for four straight seasons and not thinking about retirement. Manolo Santana, Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario are the previous tennis players who earned the Royal Order of Sports Merit award, joined by Rafael Nadal, who had spent a couple of days off the court before starting preparations for the Paris Masters.

Rafael Nadal received the Royal Order of Sports Merit award after Roland Garros crown.

Rafa made a solid start of the season, leading Spain into the ATP Cup final and reaching the Australian Open quarter-final. Losses against Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem had taken Nadal from the ATP throne, bouncing back in Acapulco to claim the 85th ATP crown.

With the coronavirus pandemic locking the tennis world for five months, Nadal went home to Mallorca and stayed there for half a year, enjoying time with his family and friends and not picking the tennis racquet in March and April.

Starting to practice in May, Nadal decided to skip Cincinnati and the US Open (both held in New York) and throw everything on Rome and Roland Garros on his beloved red surface. Diego Schwartzman defeated Rafa in the quarter-final in the Italian capital, with more challenges waiting around the corner at Roland Garros.

Seeking the 13th title in Paris, Nadal won all seven matches in straight sets, overpowering the conditions and his opponents to lift that elusive 20th Major crown and match Roger Federer’s record. At 34, Nadal became the second-oldest champion in Paris and the first with four Major titles claimed without losing a set.

Source: Jovica Ilic