Rafael Nadal’s Hair Transplant: What Went Wrong?

The tennis supremo Rafael Nadal needs no introduction. He may not be the GOAT (yet), but he’s undeniably one of the greatest tennis players to exist. But we’re not here to talk about his pure class (he’s the king of clay for a reason!). Instead, let’s discuss what’s up with his hair.

There’s no denying that Rafa’s balding. It’s clear as day. Some wonder, however, whether the tennis star had a hair transplant. Looking at his current photos, you won’t be able to say that he did. But a few years ago, it was reported that he had finally decided to bite the bullet and put an end to his balding woes. Only, unfortunately, that was not to be. But exactly what went wrong? Let’s find out. 

Who Is Rafael Nadal?

We’ll keep this brief because, really, who doesn’t know about the Big 4 (you’ve got to count Murray in)? For starters, Rafa’s full name is Rafael Nadal Parera, and you might already know he was born on the island of Mallorca in Spain. 

The wonder kid had already picked up the racquet by the age of 4, and thanks to guidance from his uncle, he won the under-12 regional tennis championship at the age of 8. Just 14 years old, and he had already beaten the once Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash on clay. 

At 16, he was already in the world’s top 50. Since then, he has gone on to win 22 Grand Slam titles (highest ever). He has an unbelievable winning percentage of 92% on clay. Currently, he ranks number 2 in the world (Carlos Alcaraz being number 1 at the moment), but he has topped the ATP ranking for years

Why Is Rafael Nadal Losing His Hair?

Is it the friction from that headband he so religiously wears, or is it all the game stress? The truth is, neither. You don’t lose your hair permanently unless the problem is genetic, hormonal or traumatic. 

In Nadal’s case, it’s a combination of genes and hormones. The name for this type of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, colloquially known as pattern baldness. And it’s believed to affect more than 80% of men in their lifetime. It’s also the most common cause of hair loss in women. 

Now, you are less likely to lose hair from pattern baldness if you are younger. Its incidence continues to increase with age. But some people can be affected by it early on in their life. Nadal’s pattern baldness came knocking while he was in his late 20s. 

And, now, aged 36, his scalp has thinned significantly. His scalp is visible through his hair along the hairline, top, and crown. While he still has enough hair for a decent comb-over, there’s no hiding the baldness in progress. 

Currently, he’s probably a Norwood 5-6. And the way his hair loss is going on, he would soon enough be a Norwood 7. Meaning he would have no hair left along his hairline, the top of the head or his crown.  

What Is Rafael Nadal’s Hair Loss Timeline? 

Here’s how Nadal’s hair has changed over the years. 

Early Years: 2006-2012

It wasn’t so long ago that Nadal had the most envious mane. Long, flowing locks, usually matted in sweat, had become the player’s hallmark. 

Off the court, you’d see it tucked behind his ears. But when he was playing, a headband would keep the hair from falling into his eyes. Needless to say, you couldn’t help but want that hair for yourself. 

Late 20s: 2013-2016 

As Rafa approached 27, his hair began to thin visibly. Although it wasn’t that evident, if you’d look closely, you’ll see that his mid-part had started to thin (which could be the reason why he switched to a combover in the coming years, as that would give better coverage).  

Right before his rumoured hair transplant in 2016, you’d also see him wearing a lot of baseball caps. Many men who’re losing their hair wear a cap to hide their baldness. Nadal may have also worn those for the same reason. 

In 2016, Sunday People reported that Rafael Nadal had finally gotten a hair transplant. And around that time, it certainly seemed to be true because there were photos and videos of his head where the entire back of the scalp was shaved (it’s called the donor area in a hair transplant because that’s where hair is taken from and transplanted in the balding regions). 

He still had hair on the top of his head, but the back and part of the sides were shaved. And just months after this rumoured surgery, Nadal’s hair made a really strong comeback. His hair looked far more dense. 

Early 30s to Present: 2017-2022

Nadal’s hair looked quite lush for a few years. Still, the volume wasn’t what it used to be. The hairline and top of the head did, however, have more hair then. Rafa lost his hair again soon enough, though. He could only enjoy the results for a couple of years. And to date, the size of his balding area is only getting bigger. 

Did Rafael Nadal Actually Have A Hair Transplant? 

Rafael Nadal most probably had a hair transplant around 2016, seeing how the back and sides of his head were shaved around that time. Also, his hair looked more voluminous in the following years. 

Unless you’re taking certain medications or have had surgery, it’s not possible to reverse hair loss like that. Since he wouldn’t have needed to shave his hair like this if he was taking medications, chances are he had surgery. 

You wouldn’t think that he did if you look at his hair now. There’s a prominent bald spot on his crown area (as you can see in the above photo taken 2 years after his rumoured surgery), and his hairline has also thinned dramatically. 

He hasn’t gone completely bald, but he soon will if he doesn’t get another surgery or take hair loss medications like minoxidil and/or finasteride.  

What Kind of Hair Transplant Did Rafael Nadal Undergo?

Rafael Nadal most probably had a follicular unit extraction or FUE hair transplant. In this, individual follicular units are extracted from the back of the scalp after it is shaved. These follicles are then implanted into the balding areas. 

Sunday People reported that the surgery took place for 10 hours, in which Nadal ended up having 4,500 grafts extracted from his donor area. That would be so if the balding area is quite large. And as a Norwood 5-6, Nadal may have needed that many grafts.

Did Rafael Nadal Admit To Getting A Hair Transplant? 

Nadal has never admitted to or denied having a hair transplant. However, he did have a picture taken with an aesthetic surgeon in Madrid, the city in which he reportedly had his hair transplant. However, it is not certain whether he is the surgeon who performed Nadal’s hair transplant. 

Keep in mind that getting a transplant is a very private and personal decision (yes, even for public figures, maybe especially so). So, if the tennis player doesn’t feel comfortable telling the world about it, that shouldn’t be a problem.  

How Much Did Nadal’s Hair Transplant Cost? 

According to the Spanish newspaper Olive Press, Nadal had a hair transplant for almost £7,800. Considering this was back in 2016, it is quite expensive, even by today’s standards. These days, the average cost of a hair transplant in Spain is around £6,500. 

But just remember that the prices can vary depending on the experience of the surgeon, the location of the clinic and the number of grafts. 

Was Nadal’s Hair Transplant A Success? 

Around the time he had the surgery, it seemed like his hair transplant was a success. His hair had started to grow back. However, soon enough, things were back to square one. 

Here, we can’t really say if his surgery was a failure because pattern baldness or hormonal changes can cause hair loss even after the surgery. This progression of genetic hair loss may have hindered the successful outcome of his surgery. 

From his photos, you can see that it was his crown area that appeared the most bald after the hair transplant. It’s likely that no grafts were transplanted there at that time. However, later on, he lost the hair in that area due to androgenetic alopecia. 

In this case, he can consider getting a second hair transplant to improve his hair density further. But keep in mind that if too many grafts have been extracted in the first session, the surgeon won’t be able to extract too many in the second session. If done wrong, it could permanently damage his donor area.

In this scenario, there are some other options that he can explore, such as scalp micropigmentation (SMP), PRP injections or minoxidil/finasteride. It is important to seek professional advice about this. 

Conclusion 

Rafael Nadal’s hair transplant likely took place a few years ago. However, unfortunately, for the tennis star, his genetic hair loss progressed to other parts of his scalp. Bear in mind that the results of a hair transplant are permanent. The hair that’s transplanted to the balding area does not fall (because it’s not affected by the hormones that cause hair loss). 

But the non-transplanted hair can fall. Additionally, if you don’t follow the aftercare instructions, you may have poor density 12-18 months after the surgery. A sportsperson has to be even more careful. Unfortunately, we cannot say for certain whether the problem occurred at the patient’s or surgeon’s end. If you’re also losing your hair, just make sure to get in touch with a medical professional. 

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