Rafael Nadal played his first Major tournament at Wimbledon 2003 a few weeks after turning 17. A super talented Spaniard was the semi-finalist in the junior event a year ago. He used that experience for a professional debut on the fastest surface against Mario Ancic on June 23.
Rafa toppled Mario in four sets and raced past Lee Childs in the second round to become the youngest player in the last 32 at Wimbledon since Boris Becker in 1985! Nadal would become a title contender at the All England Club within three years, improving his game regularly and advancing into the first Wimbledon final in 2006!
Winning the second Roland Garros crown a few weeks earlier, Nadal tried to become the first "Channel Slam" winner since Bjorn Borg, facing the ultimate test en route to the trophy. Eager to bounce back after losing to Rafa in his first Roland Garros final, the defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer toppled the Spaniard 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 in just under three hours to earn the 48th straight victory on grass.
The Swiss became the third player in the Open era with four consecutive titles at Wimbledon after Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras. Roger was more efficient on both the first and second serve, getting broken twice and stealing the Spaniard's serve six times to seal the deal and write the record books.
Federer had a clear advantage in the shortest rallies and forced Rafa's 50 errors to cross the finish line and add another Major to his tally. The more experienced player made a great start, storming over Nadal to deliver a bagel (the first in the Wimbledon finals since 1994) in the opener in blazing 24 minutes!
Recovering his game, Nadal earned a break in the second set and served for it at 5-4, only to get broken at 15.
Rafael Nadal shared thoughts about the 2006 Wimbledon final vs. Federer.
Federer won the tie break 7-5 to gain a massive boost and looked good to emerge at the top in straight sets.
Nadal made sure to end Roger's streak of 34 consecutive sets won at Wimbledon after prevailing in the third set's tie break, hoping for more in set number four. Instead, Roger raised his game again to grab the fourth set 6-3 and start a massive celebration.
Years later, Nadal admitted that he did not believe he could beat the world's best player on his favorite surface, giving his best but still lacking confidence. "It was a time when reaching a Wimbledon final was an achievement for me.
I fought in the title match and enjoyed it, but perhaps without believing that I could win. The simple fact of reaching the final was already an achievement for me; playing Roger Federer on grass made it extra tough. I made a slow start after struggling to find the rhythm.
After that, I felt better on the court and thought I could compete with Roger. However, I wasn't entirely convinced that I could beat him. At that time, Roger was better than me, and that made me work even harder to reach that level and challenge him in the years to come," Rafael Nadal said.