Nadal is often considered to be among the greatest tennis players ever to pick up a racket and, together with long-time rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, have monopolized and dominated the sport in a manner not seen in previous generations.
Nadal has won the second-most Grand Slams of any man in tennis history behind Novak Djokovic (in singles) with 22. Of those, 14 have come at Roland Garros, considered his ultimate palace, and where he has earned the monicker, King of Clay.
Remarkably, his trophy haul in Paris is the same number that American great Pete Sampras managed to win at the Grand Slam level in his career and who was once in charge of the leaderboard. As mindboggling as that sounds, Nadal's tennis career has an asterisk of the biggest what-if regarding his health.
While the Spaniard's longevity is admirable, his high-intensity style of play has come at the expense of what has now become a jaw-dropping number of Grand Slam absences. Just when Nadal looked like he had been through his personal horror with injuries in the past year, he suffered a fresh setback.
At Brisbane International this past week, where he marked his tennis return after a year on the sidelines, he tore another muscle not connected to his previous injury, which he sustained at last year's Australian Open.
He has pulled out from the 2024 Australian Open, which will be the 16th Grand Slam tournament that Nadal will take no part in. Since his Grand Slam main draw debut at Wimbledon in 2003, Nadal has played a full Grand Slam calendar just ten times in 20 years.
Federer and Djokovic, by contrast, have played 17 and 16 times, respectively (a full Grand Slam calendar). According to many onlookers, Nadal's grinding style was symptomatic of something sinister since he burst onto the scene, and that's exactly how things have panned out.
The 16 Slams that Nadal has missed because of a multitude of injuries is the equivalent of four years, which begs the question of whether Nadal would have feasibly conquered the overall Grand Slam record if he had stayed fit in at least half of those majors.
But at the same time, Nadal's physically demanding style is a double-edged sword. As much as he paid a hefty price for missing so many Grand Slams, he was able to rack up 22 in return. If anything, it should be a career of delight and not despair.