(2 of 2)
A pro since 2001, Nadal won four straight tournaments on Europe's clay-court circuit this year to shoot from 51st to 3rd in the world rankings, behind Federer and Hewitt. On his 19th birthday, he ousted Federer, his idol, in a four setter in the semis at Roland Garros, spawning a rivalry with John McEnroe-Bjorn Borg potential. Nadal even apologized to the Swiss superstar for beating him. "He's already mentally tougher than Federer," says seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander. "That's scary."
The weakness in Nadal's tennis DNA is that Spain routinely produces great dirt ballers who have feet for the slow clay of the French--which rewards baseliners--but who can't serve and volley on the slick grass of Wimbledon or on the high-speed hard courts of the U.S. and Australian opens. Federer has dominated Wimbledon the past two years; Nadal lost to Alexander Waske, ranked 147th in the world, at the grass-court tune-up in Halle. Still, a Wimbledon win is one of Nadal's goals. "If he can get past the first week and some hot weather helps harden the surface, he has a chance," says tennis coach Brad Gilbert. "Nothing this kid does surprises me." --With reporting by Bruce Crumley/ Paris, Kristina Dell/ New York, Andrea Gerlin/ Halle and Jane Walker/ Madrid