Rafael Nadal kicked off the 2004 season from inside the top-50. The young Spaniard reached his first ATP final in Auckland, losing to Dominik Hrbaty and gathering a boost ahead of the Australian Open. Rafa passed the opening two rounds and met the crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt in the third round.
Nadal gave his best in a 7-6, 7-6, 6-2 loss in two and a half hours, missing his chances in the opening two sets and running out of steam in the third. Rafa was happy with his performance, praising his rival and admitting he felt a bit tired in the closing stages.
Hewitt served at 53%, but no one could notice that. He fired nine aces and defended four out of six break points to keep the pressure on the other side. Rafa erased six out of ten break points, staying in touch in the opening two sets but falling in the third.
Lleyton Hewitt defeated Rafael Nadal after a massive battle in Melbourne 2004.
The young gun fired a forehand down the line winner in the first set's ninth game to move 5-4 up. The home favorite clinched the tie break 7-2 with a volley at the net for a massive boost.
The Spaniard landed a forehand down the line winner in the second set's fifth game to pull the break back and extend a gigantic battle. They stayed neck and neck until the tie break, and Hewitt clinched it 7-5 with a service winner to forge two sets to love advantage after two hours.
With a boost on his side, Hewitt broke the youngster's resistance in the third set to bring the victory home and end Nadal's campaign. "I played well for the entire match; my performance was excellent tonight, just like the encounter overall.
I had opportunities to take at least a set, which I could not do. Toward the end, I started to feel a bit tired; the physical aspects began to catch up with me. Still, I was thrilled with my performance. I was nervous at the beginning of the match, just like in any other; I do not think the 15,000 people overawed me that much.
I was playing on the Centre Court at a Major tournament, which may have affected me to some point, but not much. Lleyton is a great player; he performed at a very high level. Forehand is my strongest shot, and his forehand also worked like a charm; that's why he won in the end," Rafael Nadal said.