Marat Safin, Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero were the most outstanding young people in the turn of the Millennium, winning Major titles and conquering the ATP throne. Born in 1986, Rafael Nadal was ready to show his true colors in those years, taking his first steps on the professional Tour in 2001 and 2002 to find himself on the brink of the top-200 at 15!
Armed with an iron will, incredible strength and abilities to challenge almost anyone on slower surfaces, Rafa made miraculous progress in 2003 to reach the top 50, entering six Challenger finals and lifting two trophies.
That alone would have been enough for a remarkable season, but Rafa did so much more. The Spaniard improved his game to become competitive at the ATP level and reached the third round at Wimbledon, Monte Carlo and Hamburg and the semi-final at Umag to establish himself as the young player to watch.
1 at the 2004 Australian Open. Struggling to find rhythm in the second part of the season due to injuries, Rafa was eager to start over in 2004. The new season started well for the youngster, who competed in the first ATP final in Auckland and won two matches in his Australian Open debut against Michal Tabara and Thierry Ascione.
Entering the final of 32 at Majors for the second time at 17, Nadal faced crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt. A teenager gave his best in a 7-6, 7-6, 6-2 loss after two and a half hours, wasting his chances in sets one and two and losing ground in the third to hit the door output.
Gilbert on Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
Joseph Gilbert, coach to American up-and-comer Jenson Brooksby, gave his thoughts on the state of the men’s game. “I still like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, they’re just playing a little bit of a different game,” Gilbert told Tennis.com.
“It’s very high percentage, very disciplined, very risk-free, where the young guys like going for more aggressive, more attacking. And they’re not physically dropping. And on top of that, they have the experience.
Djokovic has won all three Grand Slams so far in 2021, while Nadal has added a 12th and 10th Barcelona and Rome titles to his impressive career tally. “But there’s a lot of young guys in locker rooms and they’re coming up,” Gilbert admitted.
“The returns definitely set the guys apart. It starts with the strategy and footwork, the returns, the discipline”.