At 35, Rafael Nadal is still ranked in the top-5, winning two titles in 2021 and reaching one Major semi-final. The Spaniard made his first professional steps in 2001, gathering experience and scoring his first ATP win a year later, still at 15.
Nadal played only a couple of junior tournaments, and he had massive dreams already at 16. Roberto Menendez is a retired Spanish player who competed between 1998 and 2018. Roberto never reached the ATP level, embracing only ten Challenger matches and spending the entire career on the Futures circuit and competing in almost 200 encounters at that level.
In 2018, Menendez was still active as a professional and won the 38th Young Seniors World Individual Championships title in Miami in October. In his interview on the ITF site, Menendez mentioned the match against the 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal at Spain F20 Futures back in 2002.
In the opening round, the 16-year-old prevailed 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 before earning two more triumphs en route to the title. It was Nadal's first complete season on the Futures circuit, battling against much more experienced rivals and finishing it on a high note after conquering six titles in under five months!
Super talented Spaniard was already ranked in the top-200 at the end of 2002 and hungry for more in the following year.
Rafael Nadal had high hopes for his career even at 16.
Menendez shared his memories about Nadal, saying that Rafa wanted to be world no.
1 even at such a young age, determined to fulfill his dreams and rule the tennis world, which he did less than six years later! Nadal was ready to show his full potential on the ATP Tour in 2003, winning 14 matches and reaching the third round in Monte Carlo, Hamburg and Wimbledon, followed by the Umag semi-final.
The youngster claimed two Challenger titles and finished the season inside the top-50. Two years later, Rafa became world no. 2 following the first Major crown in Paris and four Masters 1000 shields by his name, improving his game regularly and conquering the ATP throne in August 2008.
"I lost to him 6-4 in the third. About seven years ago, we did a funny interview on Spanish television with Rafa because they wanted to talk to two current No. 1's in the world. When Rafa was 16, he told me that he won't like to be just a top-10 player, but only No. 1 in the world. He was totally sure about his future," Roberto Menendez said.