Rafael Nadal after winning the first ATP title: 'It was a great week'



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Rafael Nadal after winning the first ATP title: 'It was a great week'

An 18-year-old Rafael Nadal lost in straight sets to Andy Roddick in the second round of the US Open 2004. The young Spaniard experienced a bagel in the opening set and did not feel well on the court, failing to battle against the better-ranked opponent and the crowd's favorite.

Nadal came to New York after claiming the first ATP title in Sopot a couple of weeks earlier, making the best return after an ankle injury that sidelined him from Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Rafa had stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in Miami before suffering an injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril in April, staying away from the court until July and slowly building the form.

After an early Cincinnati loss, Nadal decided to return to Europe to his beloved clay and enter a small ATP 250 event in Poland's Sopot. Facing only one top-100 rival, Rafa defeated all five opponents in straight sets to lift the maiden ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest champion on the Tour since Lleyton Hewitt at the beginning of 1998!

Nadal's most significant obstacle in terms of ranking was Victor Hanescu in the first round. A teenager won that one 6-4, 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book a spot in round two. He ousted Arnaud Di Pasquale for a place in already the season's fifth ATP quarter-final.

Instead of Friday, the rain pushed his quarter-final clash with Franco Squillari to Saturday. Rafa broke the opponent four times to forge a 6-3, 6-4 triumph and stay on the title course. Former Rome and Barcelona champion Felix Mantilla awaited in the semis later that day.

Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in Sopot 2004 at 18.

Nadal overpowered the more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-1, taking a tight first set and dominating second after creating 14 break chances. Like that was not enough, Nadal also played the doubles semi-final with Alberto Martin.

They lost in two close sets to Martin Garcia and Sebastian Prieto, finishing Saturday's duties and preparing for a big day on Sunday. Jose Acasuso stood between Rafa and his first ATP title. The young Spaniard celebrated a 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 36 minutes, in a close battle with no less than 25 break chances!

In a manner of more experienced champions, Nadal repelled 11 out of 12 opportunities offered to Acasuso and broke him three times from 13 break points to clinch the victory in straight sets and lift the maiden ATP trophy at 18.

The first break occurred in the eighth game when Nadal moved 5-3 in front and closed the set with a hold a few minutes later. Two breaks of serve were enough for the Spaniard to clinch set number two 6-4 and seal the deal, becoming the youngest ATP champion in six and a half years.

"I like the event in Sopot because I won the title there. It was a great tournament for me and an entire week overall," Rafael Nadal said.