Rafael Nadal had an historic year in 2005, and this Saturday marks another big 15-year anniversary in the Spaniard’s legendary career, as it has been exactly 15 years since he broke into the Top 10.
He had gotten within striking distance of the Top 10 on April 18, 2005, rising from No. 17 to No. 11 after winning the first Masters 1000 title of his career in Monte Carlo. But it was his title in Barcelona the next week that put him over the top, propelling him from No. 11 to No. 7 on April 25, 2005.
He didn’t lose a set in Barcelona, dropping a total of just 14 games in his first four matches of the week, before dispatching Juan Carlos Ferrero in the best-of-five-set final, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
“He is living an unbelievable moment,” said Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion and a former No. 1. “He has no fear and when you’re facing him he has that confidence—he’s playing in the zone. He doesn’t give you a lot of options and he never looks tired. I tried everything and it didn’t work.”
The 18-year-old Nadal was the youngest player in the Top 100 at the time, and he was now Top 10.
“It’s brilliant to be ranked No. 7 in the world as early as April, and it’s been a dream come true to win here [in Barcelona] and in Monte Carlo,” Nadal commented. “It’s been a fantastic two weeks.”
Fast forward 15 years to today, and Nadal is still in the Top 10—he’s never left, even for a week.
Because the rankings have been frozen since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last five weeks don’t count toward the Spaniard’s streak. But even without those, he is at 778 straight weeks in the Top 10, the second-longest streak in ATP rankings history. He is so close to the record set by Jimmy Connors, who put together 789 straight weeks between August 1973 and October 1988.
Even more impressive about Nadal’s period in the Top 10: it’s mostly been in the Top 2. Of his 778 weeks, he has spent 71% of it in the Top 2—209 weeks at No. 1 (27%) and 340 at No. 2 (44%). The Spaniard was asked about his longevity at this year’s Australian Open.
“I can’t say I’ve been lucky with injuries, because I have not,” he said. “But there’s no secret. There is only passion, about love for the game and being able to stay positive in the tough moments. It’s true that I’ve gone through some tough situations during my career, but I was always able to find a way to keep going, probably with a positive attitude and the right people around me. They were a key. A lot of people said that my career should be a little bit shorter because of my style of game, but here we are.”
Whenever the rankings are unfrozen, it will be highly unlikely for Nadal not to break Connors’ record—the Spaniard currently has 9,850 ranking points and the No. 11-ranked player in the world has 2,400, so he would somehow have to drop three quarters of his points within 12 weeks.
“Even for me it’s a big surprise to be where I am at my age,” said Nadal. “I’m just happy for everything.”