Rafael Nadal celebrates 20 years since his first ATP victory

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Rafael Nadal celebrates 20 years since his first ATP victory

Two decades after scoring his first ATP win, Rafael Nadal is still among the world's leading players. The Spanish legend claimed the 21st Major crown at the Australian Open at the beginning of the season, and he still leads the ATP Race despite playing only four tournaments in 2022.

On this day, 20 years ago, Nadal kicked off his ATP journey and claimed his first ATP victory. Instead of focusing on the junior events, the 15-year-old Nadal had other plans in 2002, eager to take further steps on the professional tour and gather precious experience.

The youngster made an ATP debut at the home ATP 250 event in Mallorca, receiving a wild card as one of the most promising players of his generation. Rafa needed no second invitation to reveal his full potential, toppling the top-100 player Ramon Delgado from Paraguay 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 23 minutes.

Thus, he joined an exclusive list of nine players with an ATP win before turning 16 (Richard Gasquet did that in Monte Carlo a few weeks earlier). At 15, ordinary competitors are only starting their junior careers. However, Nadal was in a different world in comparison to his coevals.

The Spaniard embraced the professional journey a year earlier and earned the first pro victory at Sevilla Challenger in September 2001 for a debut on the ATP list. By April 2002, Rafa had already cracked the top-800, and a wild card for the ATP 250 event at home in Mallorca was a natural step in his rapid development.

The young Spaniard grabbed it with both hands, breaking Delgado's serve five times from seven opportunities and fending off six out of nine break points he faced. Nadal overpowered an almost ten years older opponent with steady and consistent groundstrokes that were the sign of what was about to come in two or three years.

Rafael Nadal scored the first ATP victory in Mallorca on April 29, 2002.

Juniors often struggle to find their first serve, but Rafa landed in 59 out of 66 first serves, which helped him control the pace and enter history books.

Olivier Rochus ousted the young Mallorcan 6-2, 6-2 in the second round, although he was more than happy with performing in his first ATP tournament. Nadal turned 16 in June and conquered his first Futures title in Alicante just a month later, followed by a jaw-dropping five by the end of the year!

Rafa advanced into the first Challenger semi-final in Barcelona and ended the season inside the top-200 way before the 17th birthday. Nadal was already a well-established clay-courter in that following season, earning Challenger titles and the Masters 1000 wins at 16 and almost reaching the first ATP final in Umag in July. The rest is pretty much history, and it all started in Mallorca at the end of April 2002.