Rafael Nadal has, like rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, won a total of 20 Grand Slams each. It is an unprecedented number for just one to have won those many, never mind three. However, the Spaniard has accomplished one notable feat that neither of his illustrious rivals has. He has won an Olympic gold medal in tennis. Yes, Federer has also won a gold medal but he did so in the men’s doubles draw alongside Stanislas Wawrinka. Incidentally, both Federer and Nadal won their gold medals at the same Olympics – Beijing 2008. To add another amusing coincidence, the bronze medal winner in the men’s single’s event in 2008 was Djokovic.
But of the three, it is only Nadal who boasts a single’s gold. In fact, the Spaniard is the only man after Andre Agassi to complete what is known as the ‘Golden Slam’.
With 13 years having passed since that day, let us look back at how exactly he accomplished that feat.
2008 was the year Nadal truly began to establish his credentials as potentially an all-time great. He won the French Open for a third time and also beat Federer in what many consider the greatest Wimbledon final ever.
Thus, he came into the Olympics as one of the favourites to win gold. But the men’s line-up that year was as star-studded as they come.
Besides Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, the draw had Andy Murray, David Ferrer, James Blake, David Nalbandian and Nikolay Davydenko. All were seen as potential gold medal winners.
Yet many expected another Federer-Nadal final, and the draw itself lent itself to a summit clash between the two. Federer was the top seed while Nadal was the second seed, meaning they could only meet in the final.
Nadal’s Olympic campaign began with a three-setter in the first round. Facing Italy’s Potito Starace, he won the first set before dropping the second. Any hopes of an upset were crushed when Nadal took the final set 6-2.
Nadal then cruised to straight set wins over Australia’s Leyton Hewitt and Russia’s Igor Andreev. He sailed past Austria’s Jurgen Melzer in the quarters as well, handing his opponent a first-set bagel before taking the second set 6-4.
Any hopes of a Nadal-Federer epic, however, were crushed as the Swiss maestro lost to USA’s James Blake in the quarters. Nevertheless, Nadal set up a tantalising semi-final bout against Djokovic.
Nadal took the first set 6-4 but Djokovic fought back hard and won the second set 6-1. It was the first set Nadal dropped since the first round.
However, he held his nerve and took the final set 6-4. His opponent in the final? Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, who was at that point both an Olympics gold and bronze medallist.
The final in the men’s singles tournament is a five-set match, yet Nadal won it with relative ease. He won the final in straight sets, although the second set went to a tie-breaker.
But the Spaniard became the first person from his country to win a tennis Olympic gold medal.
The silver medal saw Gonzalez achieve a unique feat as well. The Chilean had now won gold, silver and bronze medals in the Olympics.
Yet the talk of the town was Rafael Nadal – and understandably so. After the Olympics, he also became the world number 1 for the first time.
In 2010, after winning the US Open, he also completed the ‘Golden Slam’.