While his coevals were still making their first steps on the junior tour, Rafael Nadal took a different approach. The Manacor native played just two events on the ITF junior Tour after turning 16 in 2002, reaching the semi-final at Wimbledon and winning the Junior Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final for his country.
Nadal's focus was on professional tennis even at such a young age, starting his pro journey at 14 in 2001! Battling against much older and experienced rivals, Nadal failed to qualify for home Satellites and Futures before getting a chance to compete in the qualifying round of the ATP 250 event at home in Mallorca.
Rafa made his pro debut in the main draws at Spain F10 Futures in Madrid on September 11, 2001, wasting no less than 13 match points against Guillermo Platel-Varas! A week later, the youngster received a wild card at Seville Challenger for a debut on that level, ousting world no.
751 Israel Matos Gil 6-4, 6-4 to claim his first pro triumph and earn the first five points in a career! On September 24, Nadal appeared on the ATP ranking list for the first time, placed just outside the top-1000 as the third-youngest player in the world after Ivan Puchkarov and Richard Gasquet.
By the end of 2001, Nadal would win seven more encounters at Spain 7 Masters and finish the season just outside the top-800, preparing himself for even more in 2002. Working on his game with passion and desire, a fantastic youngster cracked the top-200 at 16 that year, winning six out of nine Futures and scoring the first ATP victory at home in Mallorca, as one of ten 15-year-old players with an ATP triumph.
Rafael Nadal made an ATP rankings debut on this day in 2001.
A year later, Nadal would show his quality at the Masters 1000 level, reaching the third round in Monte Carlo and Hamburg and cracking the top-50 following two Challenger titles, the semi-final in Umag and the Wimbledon third round!
In 2004, the Spaniard claimed the first ATP title in Sopot in August, struggling with injuries but leaving them behind and winning the Davis Cup with his teammates. Nadal was ready to chase the very top of men's tennis in 2005, becoming world no.
2 at 19 and conquering four Masters 1000 crowns and the first Major at Roland Garros. Nadal cracked the top-10 in April 2005 and has never left the elite group, spending 16 and a half years there and hoping to extend his streak if he recovers from a foot injury ahead of 2022.
Twenty years after his ATP rankings debut, Nadal is still among the world's best players, collecting 20 Major titles and still working hard on his game despite achieving everything in our sport.