After considerable progress in 2003, Rafael Nadal was ready for an even stronger charge in the following season. The 17-year-old reached the first ATP final in Auckland at the beginning of the 2004 season and advanced into the Australian Open third round.
Rafa stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in straight sets in Miami and made a name for himself. The young Spaniard marched towards the top-30 before experiencing a left ankle injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril that halted his progress.
Nadal missed Roland Garros and Wimbledon and returned in July in Bastad. After the quarter-final run in Sweden and Stuttgart, Rafa experienced early losses in Canada and Cincinnati and returned to Europe to enter a small ATP 250 event in Sopot on clay.
Rafael Nadal had to skip a couple of months in 2004 due to an injury.
The youngster went all the way against rivals from outside the top-80 to lift the first ATP crown. Nadal became the youngest ATP champion since Lleyton Hewitt in 1998, taking well-deserved rest and making a return at the US Open.
Rafa toppled the Swiss Ivo Heuberger in five sets in the first round in New York. A teenager struggled in sets three and four before claiming the victory in the decider to set the clash against world no. 2 and the defending champion Andy Roddick.
One of the title favorites proved too strong for the Spaniard and scored a dominant 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 36 minutes. Despite serving at 82%, Nadal could not do anything with his initial shot. He gave serve away seven times, as his elbow prevented him from playing at his usual level at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After the match, Nadal praised his opponent and stated he could not beat him without delivering his A-game, which was not the case. Rafa admitted he felt more relaxed after experiencing a bagel in the opening set, fighting better in sets two and three but failing to prolong the duel.
"I did not feel like I could serve my best today; I had trouble with my elbow. Against someone like Roddick, it isn't easy without serving your best. I did not play at my best today, and you can not beat Andy Roddick without showing your A-game.
After that opening set's bagel, I was not that nervous in set number two. I was 30-0 in the encounter's first game before getting broken, which is never easy against such a great server. There's a difference between the rivals I had played in Sopot and Andy Roddick; there were good players but ranked outside the top-50.
Also, I won that event on clay. After that injury from April, I played on a high level only two or three times, like in Stuttgart and Bastad," Rafael Nadal said.
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