US Open winner Rafael Nadal: It's 'impossible' to have a successful career without this one thing

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates his victory over Matteo Berrettini of Italy
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Rafael Nadal won yet another U.S. Open men's championship on Sunday night, defeating 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev.

In winning the fourth U.S. Open of his career — and his 19th Grand Slam title overall, one shy of the all-time record — the 33-year-old Nadal had to outlast a player 10 years his junior in a nearly five-hour, five-set match. Nadal won $3.85 million as the 2019 men's U.S. Open champion, and he's now won more than $115 million in total career prize money.

Nadal, who won his first-ever Grand Slam title as a 19-year-old at the 2005 French Open, has experienced massive and sustained success for well over a decade even as he's battled injuries that threatened his career at times.

Two days before Nadal's championship match on Sunday, the Spaniard was asked about the secret to his lasting success.

"[The] secret is probably the passion and the love for what you are doing," Nadal told a crowd of fans who had just watched him defeat Italian tennis player Matteo Berrettini in the U.S. Open semifinals.

"It's impossible to have a successful and very long career if you really don't love what you do," Nadal added.

Nadal has been known throughout his career for being a passionate and intense competitor who, despite years of success, still seeks perfection on the court, even when he's only practicing. "In practice, he's searching constantly for the perfect shot, the perfect forehand," former tennis champion Mats Wilander recently told The New York Times about watching Nadal prepare for a match.

Dinner with tennis great Rafael Nadal
Dinner with tennis great Rafael Nadal

Nadal is also quick to point to his injuries as inspiration for his passionate preparation and play. Nadal has suffered from recurring knee and foot injuries that caused him to miss tournaments over the years. Nadal has battled back from those injuries to continue competing at a top level, but those health problems also taught him to appreciate when he is healthy, and to compete even harder, because he can never know how long he'll be pain-free.

"I think I had a lot of issues during all my tennis career in terms of health," Nadal told reporters in June. "So I always played with high intensity, big passion for this sport."

Of course, the idea of "following your passion" to success has become something of a cliche, and more than a few business leaders like Mark Cuban say that's bad advice. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for instance, says it's "a total crock" to suggest that doing what you love means that work will be easy and success will be sure to follow. However, Cook does believe that finding a career you are passionate about will make you work harder, and that you won't mind putting in the extra effort.

"You will work harder than you ever thought possible, but the tools will feel light in your hands," Cook said in a commencement speech at Tulane University in May.

Nadal's road to success has definitely not been short on hard work — he reportedly trains six-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week during the offseason — and, he's certainly adamant that he's still enjoying himself.

"I am playing tennis because I love to play tennis," Nadal told reporters after Sunday's U.S. Open win. He added: "I play to be happy."

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This is the No. 1 lesson Serena Williams hopes to teach her daughter
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