He may not have had a perfect ending to his season last week, but Rafael Nadal’s 2020 was historic—and he’s as motivated as ever to write his name even deeper into the history books in 2021.
Nadal served for the match at 6-3, 5-4 against Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday, but the Russian broke back and ended up sneaking out a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory, his first against the Spaniard. He then went on to beat Dominic Thiem for his biggest career title.
“At the end of the second set I was playing a little bit better than him, and then at 5-4, he played a good game and I didn’t. I played a bad game,” Nadal said. “And that’s it, no? I had a big opportunity, and I lost a big opportunity. But well done to him—he’s playing great, and I wish him all the best.”
Nadal was one hold and one more win away from some personal history in London—the ATP Finals is the biggest tournament he’s never won. His best results there are a pair of finals in 2010 and 2013, finishing runner-up to his two biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, respectively.
But six weeks before that, Nadal rewrote tennis history in Paris.
By winning Roland Garros for an unprecedented 13th time, not only did the Spaniard capture his 20th career Grand Slam title, tying Federer for the all-time record, but he also became the first player in the Open Era, male or female, to win any tour-level event 13 times. And with his win over Djokovic in the final, he became the first player ever, male or female, to win 100 matches at Roland Garros.
And that wasn’t all—three weeks later at the Paris Masters, Nadal scored the 1,000th win of his career, joining Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Federer as the only men to hit quadruple digits.
At the end of the day, though, the tennis has been his biggest focus—not the record books.
“I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. No doubt about that, no?” Nadal said in Paris. “But on the other hand I say, ‘Okay, I have to do my way.’ I did my way during all my career and it worked well. I’m not going to be thinking all the time that Novak has this one, Roger is winning the other one—you can’t always be unhappy because your neighbor has a bigger house than you or a bigger boat than you, or a better phone. You have to live your personal life, no?
“Personally that’s what I did during all my career, just try to follow my road, try my best every single day. In terms of these records, of course I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect that a lot. And for me it means a lot to share this number with Roger, no? But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers. We keep playing. I don’t know what can happen in the future.”
And that brings us to 2021, where Nadal can rewrite history in a few ways—the most obvious way being breaking his tie with Federer and setting a new Grand Slam record with his 21st career Grand Slam title. The chances of that happening at Roland Garros next spring are high, but it may not have to wait until then if he’s able to win the Australian Open, which he’s won once before, in 2009.
A triumph at Melbourne Park would be even more historic, as it would make him the first man in the Open Era to win a Double Career Slam—winning each of the four majors multiple times.
Nadal’s goals are much humbler, though.
“My goal is always the same: to go to every tournament and to give myself a chance to compete well and to try to win it. That’s the goal of every year. My motivation has always been the same.
“Next year is going to be an important year. I hope to be ready to fight for the things that I want to fight for, and I’m going to work hard during the off-season to be ready for the beginning.”