Rafael Nadal had barely played junior events before embracing a professional career, pushing the age limits like hardly anyone before and finding himself in the top 50 in 2003 at 17 years old! The Spaniard had 14 ATP wins that season, and everything was set for an even stronger 2004, especially after the first ATP final in Auckland.
Rafa stunned World No. 1 Roger Federer in Miami in two easy sets before suffering a left ankle injury in Estoril against Richard Gasquet. This forced him to miss almost three months and the debut at Roland Garros. The Spaniard returned in July and lost to Gastón Gaudio and David Ferrer in the quarter-finals in Bastad and Stuttgart.
The youngster could not find form in North America, saying goodbye early in Toronto and Cincinnati. Nadal returned to Europe and his beloved clay court, entering the ATP 250 in Sopot. Facing a single top 100 player, Rafa defeated five opponents in straight sets to lift his first ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest Tour champion since Lleyton Hewitt in Adelaide 1998.
Nadal’s biggest hurdle in the rankings was Victor Hanescu in the first round. The teenager won it 6-4 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book a place in the second round. He edged out Arnaud Di Pasquale to earn a place in the fifth ATP quarter-final match of the season.
Instead of Friday, he had to face Franco Squillari on Saturday because of the rain. The youngster broke his rival four times to forge a 6-3, 6-4 win and stay on the title trail. Later that day, a former Rome and Barcelona champion, Félix Mantilla, awaited him in the semi-finals.
Nadal will return to action this week
Rafael Nadal said that players must come to accept that only one can emerge victorious at the end of any tournament and that it is normal to lose many matches in the race.
“The thing is, at the end of the day, when you play this sport, you know at the end of the week there will only be one guy with the trophy. The normal thing every week is to lose. The dynamics and the sport change very quickly and you have to be prepared to accept both, the victories and the incredible things that can happen, but at the same time, the injuries, the difficult moments, the defeats. It is something that is part of our sport and we have to deal with it,” Nadal said.