The 16-year-old Rafael Nadal was ranked just outside the top-200 at the beginning of 2003. The Spaniard improved his position rapidly after advancing into four Challenger finals and winning one title by the end of March. Ready to show his skills on a higher level, Rafa reached the third round at the Monte Carlo Masters as a qualifier and repeated that in Hamburg and Wimbledon.
A teenager backed those results with more good runs on clay in July, including his first ATP semi-final in Umag. The youngster had to slow down a bit for the rest of the year due to injuries and returned stronger in 2004. Rafa advanced into the first ATP final in Auckland and reached the Australian Open third round, losing to Lleyton Hewitt after giving his best in sets one and two.
Following the first Davis Cup triumph for Spain and a couple more wins, Nadal cracked the top-40 and gained momentum ahead of Miami. The world's most promising youngster showed his full potential in Florida and ousted world no.
1 Roger Federer in grand style, scoring a 6-3, 6-3 win in just 70 minutes.
Rafael Nadal was ready to reach the top after beating Roger Federer in 2004.
It was a brilliant example of Nadal's progress in a previous couple of years.
Rafa improved his serve and developed an aggressive approach paired with an out-of-this-world defense already good enough to challenge any Tour player. The youngster lost 12 points in nine service games, sailing behind the initial shot and mounting the pressure on the other side.
Roger could not follow that pace, suffering three breaks and trailing 31-12 in the more extended exchanges to propel Rafa over the top. Pleased with his performance, Nadal said he felt he belonged at the top, eager to raise his level and improve all the elements to become one of the world's best players in the upcoming years.
"I have more confidence in comparison to the previous season, knowing I can play at this level and that I belong in the top-tier of the ATP rankings. I have raised my game, and I believe I belong at the top. Physically, it would be fine for me to repeat this kind of performance at Majors, as I have already won matches at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open," Rafael Nadal said.