Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal has won 16 Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal. 

The Associated Press

My father had barely parked his car before I opened the passenger door and just about flew to the glass storefront. From outside E-Z Tennis, I could see my prize hanging behind clustered racks of athletic apparel.  

I waited for what felt like days until my father stepped out of the car and joined me. Together, we opened the door and the welcoming sound of a bell’s ringing announced our arrival. The smell of freshly opened tennis balls overwhelmed me.

I was 8 years old and my father had agreed to buy me a brand new tennis racket after four years with my old one.

The store’s owner greeted my father and me and asked how he could help. Knowing exactly what I wanted, I told him. I pointed to a collection of rackets hanging on the store’s back wall, specifically to the many Babolat AeroPro Drives.

My desperate desire for this racket had nothing to do with its specifications — its 100-square inch frame or its open string pattern. I wanted this racket for the man printed on the sticker of each and every Babolat AeroPro Drive: Rafael Nadal.

At the time, Nadal had just won his third consecutive French Open, establishing himself as a major force in professional tennis. He was climbing the rankings and challenging the best players in the game, such as then-No. 1 Roger Federer.

Nadal was known for his awkward left-handed forehand motion, which didn’t finish over the opposite the shoulder, but in a whipping circle above his head.

As a young tennis player and an avid Nadal fan, it wasn’t enough to simply copy Nadal’s swing. I had to have his racket.

Now, over a decade later, Nadal’s racket is still a top seller.  

Even after multiple injuries and a goodbye to his 20s, Nadal continues to dominate on the court and attract international fandom.

After winning nine of the 10 French Opens between 2005 and 2014, Nadal became the most prolific champion at any Grand Slam in the Open Era when he won his 10th title in Paris last summer.

The French Open is played on a red clay surface as opposed to the green grasses at Wimbledon or the blue hard courts at the US Open and Australian Open. Nadal has earned most of his career victories on the clay. The surface suits his game because it plays slower than grass or hard courts.

This past week, 31-year-old Nadal annihilated his competition at the Monte Carlo Masters — a clay-court event — and won the tournament for the 11th time in his career. Prior to Sunday’s final, in which Nadal defeated Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2, no player in pro tour history had won the same title 11 times.

Nadal was the king of the clay 10 years ago and he still sits on the throne today. The game’s young stars can’t even touch him. He is 4-0 against world No. 3 Alexander Zverev and 6-2 against world No. 7 Dominic Thiem. Twenty-one-year-old Zverev and 24-year-old Thiem are the highest ranked 26-under players.

Still, they give Nadal no problems. And on the clay, it seems nobody can. He has won 14 straight matches on the clay without dropping a single set.  

As the clay-court season continues into the summer, expect to see Nadal dominate. And if you think it might help you out, buy his racket.

Follow Benjamin Brandt on Twitter @bhb1227 and contact him at [email protected].

Benjamin Brandt is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's tennis team. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.