Rafael Nadal, affectionately known by his family and fans as Rafa, was born in Manacor, on the island of Mallorca, to a very close-knit family. Several members of his family are athletes. One of his uncles is the footballer Miguel Angel Nadal, defender for Mallorca, Barcelona, and the Spanish national team.
Nadal therefore grew up surrounded by athletes, and started playing tennis when he was just four years old. He wanted to play football like his uncle, but he proved to be a very talented tennis player, and continued to play under the watchful eye of his uncle Toni.
Nadal owes a great deal of his success to his uncle Toni, who guided him and helped him become a champion. Nadal was a shy, docile child who listened to advice and pretty much did as he was told. He did not have a rebellious streak which is possibly why he was such a good listener and why he let his uncle Toni push him so hard to succeed, and toughen him up for battle and fight to the end for every single win.
It is no coincidence, then, that by virtue of an early winning streak, Rafa became one of the greatest junior tennis players of all time. He already began to gather a following in 1994, when, at only eight years old, he won the Balearic under-12s championship. In 1997, he won the Spanish under-12s championship once again, and the under-14s in 2000. His success continued when he won the ATP circuit in 2002, then in 2004, he beat Andy Roddick when he represented Spain in the Davis Cup.
When he reached the Open Championships in 2005, Nadal was just 19 years old. That year he won a career-best 11 singles titles, including 4 Masters 1000 titles, and his maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open. He won again in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in the famous clash at Wimbledon against another undisputed champion, Roger Federer. On that occasion, Nadal established himself as the best tennis player in the world, winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and held onto his winning status at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Opens. As well as being a world class champion, Nadal was known for being a polite and well-mannered young man. His mild disposition combined with his ferocious discipline, made him a source of inspiration for young people all over the world.