Tennis

Are Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal Friends?

One great champion appreciates another — or at least, that’s the case with golf legend Tiger Woods and 2019 U.S. Open winner Rafael Nadal. Woods, who holds 15 major titles in golf, including last April’s historic Masters win, attended the 2019 U.S. Open to watch Nadal defeat Marin Čilić en route to earning a 19th Grand Slam win.

The two play different sports, have different backgrounds, and were born more than 10 years apart in different countries. But both Nadal and Woods know what it’s like to excel at their respective sports. Nadal’s recent win means the pair now shares a jaw-dropping 81 victories.

Tiger Woods’ enthusiasm for Rafael Nadal’s win

Woods, along with his kids and girlfriend Erica Herman, cheered for fellow Nike athlete Nadal from a private box at Arthur Ashe Stadium on September 8. Nadal beat Croatian pro Marin Čilić in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 match that had Woods pumping his fist and yelling with excitement.

“What a great night watching @RafaelNadal. Just an incredible performance and awesome way to close out the match,” Woods tweeted afterward. For his part, Nadal said Woods is “always an inspiration for me,” as part of an Instagram post that showed the two after the round.

Nadal also told reporters, “Playing in front of Tiger for me is a very special thing.” The tennis great said the golfer was one of his idols and he “always tried to follow him every single shot that he hit during the whole year.” Nadal also called Woods “one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.”

Nadal draws inspiration from Woods’ comeback

Up until the golf great’s 2019 Green Jacket, Woods hadn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. His struggle to recover from several injuries and subsequent surgeries, as well as personal issues, damaged his reputation. Many felt Woods’ best days were over. The golfer proved, however, that he still has what it takes when he claimed a one-shot win over Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Xander Schauffele on Augusta’s fairways in April.

Following his 6-4, 6-0 victory over Fernando Verdasco at the Italian Open in May, Nadal showed how much Woods’ Masters victory inspired him with a shirt. The white Nike tee, which the tennis star wore to his press conference, featured Frank, Tiger Woods’ iconic tiger headcover and the words “If Anyone Can.”

How Woods and Nadal met

It’s not clear exactly how and when the pair started their friendship. The Nike athletes may have been introduced as part of their work for the sports company. But 2019 was not the first time Woods watched his friend play tennis. He also attended both the 2015 and 2017 U.S. Opens to watch Nadal.

Has the tennis legend ever been on the golf course with Woods? Yep. In December 2017, he attended The Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s exclusive fundraising tournament, in the Bahamas. But the two haven’t hit the links together, even informally: “Honestly, it’s much better if Tiger doesn’t see my swing,” Nadal once said jokingly.

Because Woods and Nadal are members of a small club — the greatest athletes in modern times — it’s not unusual that they’re friends.