Ranked just outside the top-50, an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal entered the 2005 season from just outside the top-50, standing as one of the most promising youngsters on the Tour. The Spaniard had some higher goals, though, needing only a couple of months to establish himself as the second strongest link on the Tour behind Roger Federer, lifting the first Masters 1000 titles and Roland Garros crown.
Rafa won back-to-back titles on clay in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco in February, skipping Indian Wells and entering Miami where he lost a thrilling final to Roger Federer, being two sets to love up and two points away from the finish line.
In the end, Roger prevailed 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 in three hours and 43 minutes, leaving Rafa empty-handed but with a lot of confidence before the beginning of the spring clay season. With no time for rest, Rafa caught the first flight to Europe, heading to Valencia and returning to his beloved clay, ready to give his best despite two challenging weeks in Florida and that grueling final.
Juan Carlos Ferrero and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez stood no chance against the mighty youngster in the opening two rounds before Igor Andreev took down Rafa 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and 40 minutes on April 8 to halt the youngster's progress and give him a few days off before Monte Carlo Masters.
The youngster broke the Russian three times but had nothing left in the tank after the opener, suffering only the 13th loss in the ATP clay matches and the last one before the unmatched streak he rattled off, winning the next 81 encounters on the slowest surface to set the record.
Conquering his first Masters 1000 crown in Monte Carlo, Nadal was undefeated on the beloved surface for more than two years until Roger Federer ousted him in the final of Hamburg in 2007, winning 13 straight ATP titles on clay including three Roland Garros and six Masters 1000 crowns to establish himself as one of the greatest clay-courters ever at the age of 20!
Guillermo Coria, Roger Federer and few other players where there to challenge Rafa on clay in those years but none of them was able to make the last push and defeat the Spaniard in his kingdom until the Swiss finally managed to achieve that in the final of Hamburg in 2007 after a dominant display in sets two and three.
After everything he has accomplished on clay in the last 15 years (57 ATP titles and jaw-dropping 415-36 score), Rafa is recognized as the best player on the slowest surface ever, winning 11 Roland Garros crowns and setting many records that will never be broken, including this outstanding 81-match winning streak.