Rafael Nadal became a teenager to watch in 2003, making a strong start of the season and cracking the top-50 following an incredible mixture of Challenger and ATP Tour results. A year later, Nadal was eager to challenge the rivals from the top.
He lost to Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open before facing newly-crowned no. 1 Roger Federer in Miami. The 17-year-old stunned the tennis king 6-3, 6-3 in the third round in 70 minutes to steal all the headlines. Roger claimed the Indian Wells crown the previous week.
He did not have enough time to recover for Miami, feeling signs of illness and fever and never looking good on the court. Still, we should not take anything from Nadal's triumph, playing with no sign of nerves and doing just about everything right on the court.
Rafa did massive damage with his topspin forehands that bounced high and took time off from Federer's shots, preventing the Swiss from settling into his usual rhythm. The Spaniard's defense was already one of the best in the business, building a fortress around the baseline that was almost impossible to penetrate.
He did not lean only on that, though, attacking whenever he could and playing well-constructed points at the net. Nadal struggled a bit with his backhand, but that could not hurt him much since Federer played below his level.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played for the first time in Miami 2004.
Nadal's serve gave him a considerable advantage, never facing a break chance or deuce and creating room to play more aggressively on the return.
Rafa served at 81% and won 31 out of 39 points after landing the first serve in, impressive numbers for a player whose initial shot was not his prime weapon. Nadal's second serve worked like a charm, although he played just nine points on weaker serve.
He lost 12 points in nine service games, something he could have only dreamed about before the start of the match. On the other hand, Roger could not follow those numbers behind his serve. He dropped almost 40% of the points and played against seven break chances to suffer three times and propel Nadal over the top.
Federer had 16 service winners, and Rafa returned the other serves with no trouble. The Spaniard gained an immediate advantage in the rallies, sending the balls back to Roger's backhand, especially in the second set. Nadal finished the encounter with nine service winners and a 14-11 advantage in the winners from the field, hitting with more variety than his rival, who had only two winners outside his forehand.
The Swiss sprayed 17 unforced errors, 12 from his more substantial wing, while Nadal stayed on 14, mainly thanks to his backhand. The Spaniard forged the most significant difference in the forced errors segment, hitting just three from his backhand.
At the same time, Roger counted 16 and spoiled his chances. Thanks to those service winners, Federer had the edge in the shortest points up to four strokes, 31-27, while everything else was on Nadal's side. Rafa demolished the opponent in the mid-range rallies from five to eight shots, taking 20 from 27 of those and clinching 11 of the longest 16 points to make his victory clean as a whistle.