"I'll be very surprised if he didn't win the French Open one day" - When Lleyton Hewitt tipped an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal to become a top player

Lleyton Hewitt said back in 2005 that he would be surprised if Rafael Nadal never won the French Open one day
Lleyton Hewitt said back in 2005 that he would be surprised if Rafael Nadal never won the French Open one day

Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt locked horns on 11 occasions on the ATP Tour, with the Spaniard leading 7-4 in the head-to-head. However, the Aussie dominated their head-to-head at the beginning, winning each of their first three encounters.

The third meeting between Nadal and Hewitt came in the fourth round of the 2005 Australian Open, where the latter was seeded third. The Spaniard, who was only 18 years old back then, reached the fourth round of a Major for the first time in his career with wins over Julien Benneteau, Mikhail Youzhny and Bobby Reynolds.

Hewitt, meanwhile, booked his place in the last 16 by defeating Arnaud Clement, James Blake and Juan Ignacio Chela. The Aussie was asked about facing Nadal prior to the match, which he expected to be a tough one. He also made note of the Spaniard's fondness for going out on the court and playing big matches.

"Yeah, doesn't get any easier. Just another step up, I guess. Yeah, he was obviously a little bit fortunate a couple of days ago to get out of that match against Youzhny. But then tonight, from all accounts, you know, he's destroyed a guy (Reynolds) that, you know, he probably should destroy, as well," Hewitt said.
"It's going to be a tough match. He's a worthy opponent, playing Round of 16 in a Grand Slam, on any surface, I think. And he's hungry, he really is. You know, he loves going out there, playing big matches. That's something that I really respect in, you know, a young guy like him, you know, the way that he handles the situation," he added.

Hewitt was also asked if Nadal had the potential to be one of the top players in tennis. The Aussie admitted that he thought so and praised the Spaniard's hunger for victory and competitiveness. Hewitt also declared that he would be surprised if the Mallorcan never won the French Open -- a statement that has since become prophetic.

"I think so. He's been -- at least last year, I think the year before, he might have been injured for the French Open or a lot of the clay court season. He's a lot better player than whatever his ranking is, to not be seeded. He's good on all surfaces," Hewitt said.
"As I said, he's hungry, he's intense, he's competitive, he's all of that, and he's good for the game. I'll be very surprised if he didn't win the French Open one day," he added.

Nadal and Hewitt played out a thrilling encounter in the fourth round of the 2005 Australian Open, with the Aussie winning 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-2. Hewitt went on to reach the final, where he lost to Marat Safin.

Rafael Nadal won the French Open a record 14 times

Rafael Nadal in action at the Australian Open
Rafael Nadal in action at the Australian Open

Lleyton Hewitt's prediction turned out to be true as Rafael Nadal won his maiden French Open crown just a few months after the Aussie's statement (beat Mariano Puerta in the final), also registering his first Grand Slam title.

The Spaniard has since won the clay-court Major a record 14 times, thus cementing his status as the greatest competitor the tournament has ever seen. The 22-time Grand Slam champion's Roland Garros wins in 2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020 came with him not dropping a single set.

The Spaniard's 14th triumph at the clay-court Major came last season, when he beat Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the final.

What is the foot injury that has troubled Rafael Nadal over the years? Check here

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Edited by Shyam Kamal
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