Like many other young boys, Rafael Nadal loved football. With the Barcelona player Miguel Angel Nadal as one uncle and the tennis lover Toni Nadal as another, Rafa had the opportunity to embrace both sports and show his skills on the green and red court.
At 12, the Manacor native chose tennis as his primary sport, working with Toni and becoming one of the greatest players ever! Nadal started with professional tournaments in 2001, skipping his junior career and competing against much older and more experienced guys on the Tour.
Rafa earned his first ATP victory in 2002 and finished the year just outside the top-200. Seeking much higher positions in 2003, the 16-year-old reached four Challenger finals by the end of March, winning the title in Barletta.
The young Spaniard qualified for the main draw in Monte Carlo and made a perfect Masters 1000 debut. Rafa beat Karol Kucera and the reigning Roland Garros winner Albert Costa to secure a place in the third round and crack the top-100.
Nadal reached the third round in Hamburg in May before experiencing an elbow injury that forced him to miss Roland Garros and all pre-Wimbledon events. Rafa entered the All England Club and faced Mario Ancic in the first round, another youngster who defeated Roger Federer a year ago.
Nadal toppled Ancic 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 after three hours and four minutes, earning his first ATP win on grass and standing as the third-youngest player with a Wimbledon triumph.
Rafael Nadal picked tennis over football at 12.
Both players had their chances on the return.
Nadal fended off 11 out of 14 to keep the pressure on the other side. The Spaniard delivered five breaks and moved over the top for a milestone triumph. Asked about his uncles, Rafa explained that Miguel Angel played for Barcelona in the 90s, with the entire family cheering for them during that decade.
Still, Nadal admitted they were Real Madrid supporters, returning to their favorite club once Miguel Angel left Barcelona in 1999 and returned to the local club of Mallorca. "I picked tennis over football at 12 because I played it better.
When my uncle played for Barcelona, the family was cheering for them. Before that, we were all supporting Real Madrid. Once my uncle left Barcelona, we were Real Madrid fans again," Rafael Nadal said.
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