Rafael Nadal had barely played junior events before embracing a professional career, pushing the age limits like hardly anyone before and finding himself in the top-50 in 2003 at 17 years old! The Spaniard had 14 ATP wins that season, and everything was set for an even stronger 2004, especially after the first ATP final in Auckland.
Rafa stunned world number 1 Roger Federer in Miami in two easy sets before suffering a left ankle injury in Estoril against Richard Gasquet. This forced him to miss almost three months and the debut at Roland Garros. The Spaniard returned in July and lost to Gastón Gaudio and David Ferrer in the quarter-finals in Bastad and Stuttgart.
The youngster could not find form in North America, saying goodbye early in Toronto and Cincinnati. Nadal returned to Europe and his beloved clay court, entering the ATP 250 in Sopot. Facing just one top-100 player, Rafa defeated five opponents in straight sets to lift his first ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest Tour champion since Lleyton Hewitt in Adelaide 1998.
Nadal's biggest hurdle in the rankings was Victor Hanescu in the first round. The teenager won it 6-4 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book a place in the second round. He edged out Arnaud Di Pasquale to earn a spot in the fifth ATP quarter-final match of the season.
Instead of Friday, he had to face Franco Squillari on Saturday due to rain. The youngster broke his rival four times to forge a 6-3 6-4 win and stay on the title trail. Later that day, he was awaited in the semi-finals by a former champion from Rome and Barcelona, Félix Mantilla.
Nadal will return to action this week
Rafael Nadal said that players must come to accept that only one can emerge victorious at the end of any tournament and that it’s normal to lose a lot of matches in one’s career.
“The thing is, at the end of the day when you play this sport you know that at the end of the week there’s gonna be only one guy with the trophy. The normal thing every week is to lose. The dynamics and the sport changes very quickly and you need to be ready to accept both things, the victories and the amazing things that can happen but at the same time, the injuries the tough moments, the losses. It's something that is part of our sport and we need to deal with that,” Nadal said.