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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, May 3, 2020


Rafael Nadal hasn’t always bit into birthday cake with the same zest he shows chomping on championship trophies.

Asked at the US Open the best thing about being 19, Nadal confessed he longs for his teenage days.

Nadal: If Roland Garros is Safe, I'll Be There

"Best part of it, of course if I can come back to 19, I take it," Nadal said with a smile. "Of course, better be 19 than 31. My opinion.

“I always wanted to be young. Even when I was 8 years old, I was not very happy to when I was, my birthday, to be 9. Still the same… I don’t want to get older. For the moment, I didn’t find the way to stop that watch."

The King of Clay is forever young for legions of fans he inspires around the world.

Today, we celebrate Nadal’s 34th birthday with 34 tributes to a magnetic champion who has given us timeless tennis.

“I just think he's an incredible tennis player. Rafa has got shots that no other one has. When you have that, you are unique and special. Plus he's got the grit. He's got the mental and physical ability to sustain a super high level of play for years and for hours and for weeks.

“He's proven that time and time again. He's come back from many injuries time and time again. He made it seem easy, and it's not. I think he's been tremendous for the game. I have a lot of respect for him on many levels.”—Roger Federer

"I'm really honored to be part of, you know, one of the greatest rivalries in sport. We have faced each other I think most of any two players that faced each other in history. And it keeps going.

"I am the player I am today because of Rafa, for sure, and because of the rivalries we had because of the fact that he was always making me improve, and I think it's also vice versa, it's other way around."—Novak Djokovic

“Rafael Nadal is possibly the greatest athlete our sport has ever known.”—Rod Laver

“When you lose, there’s only one way to go and that’s train harder. I was lucky enough to train a guy who was excited every single day for practice as he was before a final.”—Uncle Toni Nadal



“It his relentless ability to play every point like nothing else matters except that point. Jimmy Connors was very close to that, but I’ve never seen anyone do it better than Rafael Nadal. It is such a cliche but if you look at the way he plays and someone asked you ‘who would you want to play one match for your life?’ How do you not pick that guy? He is amazing.”—Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone

"He's built out of a mold that I think I came from also, that you walk out there, you give everything you have from the very first point to the end no matter what the score. And you're willing to lay it all out on the line and you're not afraid to let the people see that."—Jimmy Connors

“I am so impressed by Rafael Nadal. He has no weaknesses and to him every point is match point. That’s what I like about Nadal. Whoever plays against him is aware Nadal will always give 110 percent and never, ever give a ball away.”—Bjorn Borg

"[Who is toughest opponent?] I would go for most players' answer: Rafa Nadal. That's what everybody says. I totally agree with that. First of all, the intensity, his fighting spirit, his speed, movement on the court.

“He covers so much court when you play against him. So it's not very easy to hit winners or play aggressive shots that are going to lead to more defensive balls. I just think mostly his fighting spirit and that he believes in himself so much when he's out on the court. He has one of the best forehands in the game, too.”—Stefanos Tsitsipas

“You can see how (much of a) perfectionist and demanding Rafa is. It is a pleasure to be with him. You know that in the game there will be a fight. I would put my life in his hands.”—Carlos Moya

“Facing Rafa is like going on court to face Gladiator,”—Novak Djokovic

“Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is almost a mission impossible.”—Janko Tipsarevic

"The first moment on he doesn't give you any air to breath. So basically, if you want to beat him or if you want to compete well with him you have to do the same. You have to be on fire from the first moment on or if you don't do that it happens what happened to me in Monte-Carlo—he just kills you.”—Dominic Thiem



"Rafa's mentality is so impressive. I really feel like Nadal is right there as the toughest athlete in any sport. He is mentally so strong. He digs so deep. I respect Nadal as much as any athlete in any sport for his mentality."—Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP


“I think he's the greatest fighter ever in this sport. It's unbelievable what he's doing. I admire him, the way he's on the court. His attitude is something that I think it's close to the perfection. He's always, like, 5-0, 40-Love down, he's always there. It's something that's not that easy to do. So bravo.”—Matteo Berrettini

“There will never be another Nadal… A genius on clay, with a tremendous work ethic, he’s a role model both on and off the court.”—Billie Jean King

“Rafael Nadal, you are the best Spanish athlete in history!”—Fernando Verdasco

“The biggest misconception in the history of the world is about Rafa. He has never been a defensive player for one second. He’s an offensive machine, who’s willing to play defense. But the basis of his game is relentless offense. Even if he’s eight feet behind the baseline, he’s relentless on offense that’s willing to play defense.”—Brad Gilbert

“He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay. There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him.”—Roger Federer

“Rafa on clay [is the greatest challenge]. You won’t beat prime Roger on grass, but you’ll have a chance, you’ll lose maybe 6-4, but not 6-2 like against Rafa in the Roland Garros final. He destroyed me that day.”—Stan Wawrinka

“Once again Rafael Nadal proves why beating him in a best-of-five set match on clay is arguably the biggest challenge in all of sport.”—Pat Cash

“Appreciate Rafa’s greatness,”—Tiger Woods

“Losing is not my enemy. Fear of losing is my enemy.”—Rafael Nadal

“Rafa is like a lion in the middle of the jungle. He's a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments every single time. I played eight times, and every important moment he played better than me.”—Diego Schwartzman

“Rafael is maybe the best with the bad position. When he arrives in a bad position he makes a wonderful shot. This is talent.”—Uncle Toni Nadal



“The thing is, Rafa’s always been unbelievable at comebacks. He’s one of the guys who’s done it the best and the most almost. Every time he came back, he was always in the mix again to win big tournaments and be really, really difficult to beat and be one of the favorites, even on his weaker surfaces.

“So I think maybe on this occasion, he’s going to lead the way for me, to show how it’s done.”—Roger Federer

"I think nobody's game really matches up well with Rafa’s game. That's why he's so unbelievably successful. No matter what, it's always really tough to play against him.”— Dominic Thiem

“Rafa is definitely the biggest competitor in sports history, not just tennis. Federer makes it look easy. Yeah, 20 Slams are 20 Slams. But numbers do not tell everything.”—Andre Agassi

"I mean, if you can teach that, we will have many Rafas and we don't have that at all. So that's something that we, I mean, it's amazing. Nobody could expect a guy from Mallorca to win 19 Grand Slams, 12 French Opens.”— Carlos Moya

“Nadal is a nice guy off the court, on the court, he is a bully. He just bullies you around the court with his intensity of being and intensity of shots. Just relentless keeps coming at you. Can’t get away from him.”—Martina Navratilova

"Since I was eight years old, I have watched Rafa’s game when he won his first Grand Slam [at 2005 French Open]. I just fell in love with his game, with his character, everything. Since the tournament, I start to love him as a player.I love everything [about him]; how he plays and how he behaves. So, for me, he’s the perfect example how I have to be as a sportsman."— Daria Kasatkina

Tennis Express


“I could not give any suggestion to Rafa! He plays with an intensity which I thought was impossible. I never saw someone working so hard on the court…Rafa tries harder than anyone I’ve ever seen in our sport.” John McEnroe

“There is no secret, no? There is only about passion, about love for the game, and about be able to stay positive in the tough moments.

"It’s true that I went through some tough situations during all my career. But I was able to always, with probably the positive attitude and with the right people around, that they were a key, I was able to find a way to keep going."—Rafael Nadal

"Something that difficult to imagine for me because for my style of game, as a lot of people said, my career should be little bit shorter. But here we are. Happy for that. Even for me is a big surprise to be where I am at my age. So happy for everything. Just enjoying the situation."—Rafael Nadal


 

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