Rafael Nadal will go down in history as one of the greatest ever players to have picked up a tennis racquet. With 21 Grand Slams to his name, the Spaniard currently leads the Slam race, ahead of rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The Mallorcan's influence on the sport, however, extends beyond just his achievements on the court. The World No. 4's legacy is further cemented by the Rafa Nadal Academy, which he started back home in Manacor to develop budding talents in the sport. The academy has since served as the home to some of the biggest stars on the ATP and WTA tours at the moment.
Without further ado, here's a look at five tennis players who have publicly revealed their adulation for the former World No. 1:
#1 Jaume Munar
Jaume Munar is a graduate of the Rafa Nadal Academy and is a huge fan of the 21-time Grand Slam champion just like most up-and-coming players from Spain. Interestingly, Munar was the Mallorcan's doubles partner of choice when he returned to action earlier this year at the Melbourne Summer Set after a prolonged injury absence.
Speaking in a recent interview, the World No. 101 revealed that the 35-year-old helped him a lot during his early days at the academy and that he's the one who has had the most "direct impact" on his career.
"He helped me a lot, and I will always remember, when I arrived at the Academy, seeing the way he trained and the desire and intensity with which he did it. He is an inspiration to me and to all children. If there is someone who has had a direct impact on my career, it is him," Munar said.
#2 Paula Badosa
Paula Badosa is another Spaniard who has not shied away from showing her admiration for Rafael Nadal in public. The highest-ranked player from Spain on the women's circuit, Badosa has declared time and again that the Mallorcan has had a great influence on her career.
Speaking in a recent interview, the World No. 2 remarked that she considered Nadal to be a "reference point," adding that she admires him a lot for his mentality and fighting spirit.
"Rafael Nadal is the reference point for me. He is a worker, a fighter and has a great mentality. I admire him more and more," Badosa said. "It seems to me that he is not from this planet mentally and that is even more inspirational. He has always been an example that I have looked at when I have faced difficult moments and if I want to emulate someone, it is him."
#3 Casper Ruud
Casper Ruud is probably the most high-profile name to have graduated from the Rafa Nadal Academy. The World No. 7 has trained there since 2018, and revealed in the the past that the 35-year-old was the first player he watched on television and the one who led him on the path to professional tennis.
Speaking in a recent interview, the Norwegian disclosed that he has been a fan of the 21-time Grand Slam champion since he started following the sport and that training with him at the academy was a big source of inspiration for him.
"Rafael Nadal is one of the best of all time. I've been a fan of him ever since I started watching tennis. He's my biggest idol and the one I admired the most among all the players. Training with him was a great motivation," Ruud said. "Even [when] he's won almost everything, he is extremely humble and works hard today as he did 15 years ago."
#4 Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz might think that his playstyle is more similar to that of Roger Federer than Rafal Nadal's, but it has been impossible for the Spaniard to avoid comparisons with his country's legend in recent weeks.
Speaking in a recent interview, Alcaraz remarked that Nadal has always been his idol. The teenager was particularly impressed by the 21-time Major winner's ability to turn a match around, a trait he experienced first-hand during their Indian Wells semi-final encounter.
"It's amazing to play against Rafa. He's my idol since I was a kid, so it's never easy to play against him. I think it's a great experience for me to meet him in Masters 1000 semifinal," Alcaraz said. "Everybody knows how Rafa's game is and he has a thousand lives in the match. When he's down, he can turn the game around."
#5 Iga Swiatek
No one has been more outspoken in their love and admiration for Rafael Nadal than Iga Swiatek. The World No. 1 won her maiden Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open, the same tournament where the World No. 4 won his 20th.
Speaking in a recent interview, Swiatek fondly recalled how she watched the Spaniard in action in the same dress she wore during her trophy presentation, as she did not want to miss the opportunity to watch him play live.
The Pole also revealed that she was on the verge of tears when the Mallorcan lost to Novak Djokovic last year at Roland Garros.
"Rafael Nadal has always been my idol. I have pretty sad memories of Roland Garros last year because I was crying when Rafa lost against Novak [Djokovic]. But two years ago, I was watching the final. I had the trophy photoshoot [after I won the women's title]," Swiatek said. "I was wearing this really nice long dress and went to see the final like this."