Rafael Nadal
Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates with The Musketeers’ Cup (Coupe des Mousquetaires) after his victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud in the final of the French Open last year. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Rafael Nadal on Thursday withdrew from the French Open and announced that 2024 will likely be his last season in tennis after a career which has brought him 22 Grand Slam titles.

AFP Sport recalls six of the Spaniard’s greatest Slam finals:

2005 French Open

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Rafael Nadal holding his first French Open trophy in 2005. Image Credit: AFP

Nadal bt Mariano Puerta 6-7 (7/6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5

The one that started it all.

Nadal came in as an 18-year-old left-hander on the rise, with a huge top-spin forehand and expectations to match.

He won all three clay-court lead-up tournaments, in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and there was a buzz growing around Nadal as he took to court in a sleeveless shirt, prowling like a young matador.

He blasted through the draw taking out Richard Gasquet, Sebastien Grosjean and David Ferrer.

But the real test came in the semi-final against world No 1 Roger Federer. The pair had never met on clay.

It was Nadal’s 19th birthday and he won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Little-known Puerta of Argentina, ranked 37, was dispatched in a four-set final and Nadal would not lose another match on the Paris clay until 2009.

2008 Wimbledon

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Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer in the final in near darkness in 2008 Wimbledon Championships. Image Credit: AFP

Nadal bt Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7/5), 6-7 (10/8), 9-7

A match that is widely remembered as one of the greatest tennis matches of all time, it went to Nadal after an incredible four hours, 48 minutes of action.

Scheduled for a 2pm start, the final began late because of rain, had two more rain delays, and ended in light so bad that the Hawk-Eye line-calling system had ceased to work.

Federer clawed back a two-set deficit and saved two match points in the fourth set to take it the distance.

The sheer quality of tennis was like nothing seen before until Federer finally erred, finding the net at 9:21pm to hand Nadal, who fell on his back onto the grass in relief, his first Wimbledon triumph.

2009 Australian Open

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Rafael Nadal recovered from a five-setter in the semifinals to beat Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open in 2009. Image Credit: Reuters

Nadal bt Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-2

Nadal again came out on top against Federer, this time in a five-set, four-and-a-half-hour thriller.

Unbelievably, the match started less than 24 hours after Nadal had been extended to five hours and 14 minutes in beating countryman Fernando Verdasco in a five-set semi-final.

Nadal’s incredible feat of recovery and stamina delayed Federer from tying Pete Sampras’s then record of 14 Grand Slam titles, and also gave Nadal his first Australian Open.

2012 Australian Open

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Nadal lost an epic final to Novak Djokovic. Both players need to sit down during the presentation ceremony after the five-hour and 53-minute clash. Image Credit: AP

Nadal lost to Djokovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5

One of four Australian Open final defeats for Nadal, but a true epic that will be forever etched in the memory.

The match was the ultimate test of endurance and skill as it unfolded over five hours and 53 minutes of tennis of the highest quality between the world No 1 Djokovic and second-ranked Nadal.

When it finally ended at 1:37am Monday local time — the longest Grand Slam final in history — both players were almost out on their feet.

The pair traded brutal blows all night — one energy-draining 31-shot rally caused Djokovic to fall at the end and Nadal to tumble over the sidelines.

“This one was very special,” Nadal said. “Not because I lost, no, because of the way that we played.”

During the trophy presentation, both players needed to sit down. They were totally exhausted.

2013 US Open

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Nadal returned from a seven-month injury break to register his sixth win over Djokovic in the 2013 US Open final. Image Credit: Reuters

Nadal bt Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1

Nadal had seven months out to rest his creaking, injured knees, missing the 2012 US Open and 2013 Australian Open. But he took the world of tennis by storm on his return.

The Spaniard won 60 of 64 matches, 22 of them on hard courts not thought to favour the “King of Clay”, lifted 10 titles, two of them Grand Slams (French Open, US Open) and registered his sixth win over Djokovic in seven matches.

Again the quality of the tennis was that of dreams.

One rally lasted for 54 shots — 20 more than any other in the tournament — as Nadal won in three hours and 21 minutes of pulsating action.

2022 Australian Open

Rafael Nadal with the Australian Open trophy after defeating Daniil Medvedev in the 2022 final. Image Credit: Source: Australia Open twitter

Nadal bt Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5

The 35-year-old Nadal claimed a 21st Slam title with a stunning comeback against Medvedev.

He became the first man in the Open era to win the Australian Open from two sets down, and also saved three break points in the third set.

Medvedev said Nadal’s performance was “unreal” after coming out second-best in a gruelling match which lasted five hours and 24 minutes.

It was the second time Nadal had defeated Medvedev in a major final, after another five-set epic went his way in New York in 2019.