Olympic Flashback: Rafael Nadal claims gold medal in Beijing

Rafael Nadal claimed his first Major title at Roland Garros 2005 and became world no. 2 soon after that. Rafa had continued to work on his game, becoming world no. 1 contender by 2008. Nadal lifted trophies in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Hamburg and Roland Garros that year and moved closer to Roger Federer. Improving his game on grass, Rafa conquered Queen’s and Wimbledon and extended his winning streak to 32 before Novak Djokovic halted him in the Cincinnati semi-final. Nadal earned enough points to pass Federer on August 18 and become world no. 1 for the first time. Before that, the Spaniard headed to Beijing as one of the men’s singles gold medal favorites. He again delivered his best tennis to win another significant title in that historic season. Nadal took down Novak Djokovic in three challenging sets in the semi-final after over two hours and faced Fernando Gonzalez in the gold medal clash. After two hours and 23 minutes, Rafa toppled the Chilean 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to embrace the Olympic glory. Nadal completed his outstanding performance in the previous few months, winning 38 out of 39 matches to become a well-deserved world no. 1.

In Beijing 2008, Rafael Nadal defeated Fernando Gonzalez in three sets to win gold.

Nadal served well and repelled all four break points to keep his games intact. He pushed Gonzalez to the limits on the second serve and created ten break chances, converting two to move over the top in straight sets. The Chilean did his best to keep the points on his racquet and control the pace with flaming forehands. However, it was not enough against the rival who defended well and avoided unforced errors. Fernando won the previous two clashes against Rafa on hard courts, including a notable win at the Australian Open 2007. Still, he could not repeat that against an in-form rival who played career-best tennis. Nadal kicked off the encounter in a reliable fashion, taking eight of the first ten points and clinching a break in game two when Fernando’s slice backhand landed long. Gonzalez saved a set point in game eight with a fantastic forehand winner before Rafa sealed the deal with a forehand down the line winner in the next one for 6-3.

Nadal faced no troubles on serve, absorbing the rival’s forehands like no one else would and taking the most potent weapon out from the Chilean’s hands. Both players sailed through their service games in the second set, and they were heading towards the tie break when Nadal faced the first loose service game at 5-6. Gonzalez blasted a forehand winner to take a 40-15 lead, with two set points up for grabs. Nonetheless, the Chilean missed a backhand volley on the first and an easy forehand on the second, which sealed his fate in this encounter. Rafa closed the game with a forehand down the line winner to gain momentum ahead of the tie break and clinched it 7-2 when Fernando sent a forehand long.

Gonzalez fended off two break points in the third set’s second game to avoid an early setback before Nadal broke him at love next time to move 3-1 in front with a backhand crosscourt winner. It was a one-person show in those moments, and Gonzalez could not do anything to stop the downfall. He faced two more break points in game six and saved them to reduce the deficit. Suddenly, the Chilean got a chance to pull the break back after creating a couple of opportunities in the next game. Rafa repelled them with a forehand and service winners and closed the game with two more direct points for a 5-2 advantage. Fernando erased three match points in game eight on his serve to extend the clash. Nadal crossed the finish line with another solid hold at 5-3, forcing his rival’s error to start a massive celebration of one of his most cherished titles.