Portugal Colonial - Grand manners: obsessive Nadal makes tennis history

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Grand manners: obsessive Nadal makes tennis history
Grand manners: obsessive Nadal makes tennis history

Grand manners: obsessive Nadal makes tennis history

Finicky to the point of distraction, Rafael Nadal cuts an instantly recognisable figure on court with idiosyncrasies that are regarded as charming by his fans but often irritating by opponents.

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The Spanish great, who won a record 21st Grand Slam title in Sunday's epic Australian Open final that finished well after 1:00 am local time, constantly picks at the rear of his shorts, wipes sweat from his brow and pushes hair back behind his ears before every serve.

At changeovers he superstitiously refuses to step on the baseline and devotedly lines up his drinks bottles, labels always facing the same way, before stepping back into action.

Quiet and modest off the court, his mannerisms on it demonstrate that he leaves nothing to chance in his relentless pursuit of tennis glory.

He has an ability to unnerve his opponents, and can mesmerise them with the power and spin on his huge ground strokes.

Melbourne Park quarter-final opponent Denis Shapovalov became unsettled at Nadal's fidgeting and wanted him given a code violation for pushing the 25-second serve clock to the limit.

The young Canadian complained that the Spanish great was given preferential treatment because of his status in the game.

Nadal, a man who always applauds his vanquished opponents off court, quietly disagreed.

"I really believe that it's always in the mind that top players get bigger advantages and, honestly, on court it's not true," Nadal said.

- 'Life is never clear' -

Just as happy fishing or playing golf at home in Mallorca, Nadal is ruthless on the tennis court.

"He's never seen a point he's not dying to win, a ball he's not willing to chase," said his uncle and long-time mentor, Toni Nadal.

The Spanish gladiator is also humble away from the cauldron of the world's tennis coliseums.

"I have doubts every day but that's good as it makes me work hard with more intensity," said Nadal, whose career has been constantly under siege from knee, wrist and foot injuries.

"Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person."

Sunday's monumental victory moved Nadal clear of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as the first man to win 21 Grand Slams.

"This has been one of the most emotional matches of my tennis career," Nadal said at the trophy presentation.

"It's just amazing. I didn't know a few months back if I would even be playing again on the tour. You don't know how much I fought to be here."

His Grand Slam CV boasts 13 French Opens, four US Open titles, two at Wimbledon and now two Australian Opens.

His 2008 Wimbledon triumph over Federer is widely regarded as the greatest ever Grand Slam final.

He has 89 career titles including 36 Masters titles, one behind Djokovic's all-time record.

- Early success -

Tennis has been in Nadal's DNA from a young age, when he was regularly beating older players.

He won an under-12 regional crown at age of eight. By the time he was 12 he had captured Spanish and European age-group junior titles.

By 15, he had turned professional and, two years later, won his first match against Federer.

At 19, he won the 2005 French Open on his debut, going on to win 12 more times in the next 16 editions.

Nadal has Wimbledon crowns in 2008 and 2010, an Australian Open title in 2009 and completed the career Grand Slam in 2010 by defeating Djokovic in the US Open final, becoming the youngest in the Open era to complete the four-event career sweep.

Only Nadal and Andre Agassi can say they have a career Grand Slam and an Olympic men's singles gold medal, Nadal having claimed his in 2008 at Beijing.

Knee, foot and wrist injuries have taken a toll throughout his career, however, costing him 11 Slam appearances.

After he failed to reach a Slam semi-final in 2015 and 2016 some figured his greatest moments were behind him.

But Nadal won a record 10th French Open crown in 2017, setting the stage for another title run at the US Open in September.

Only Nadal, Pete Sampras and Ken Rosewall have managed the feat of winning Grand Slam titles in their teens, 20s and 30s.