The 19-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has never been an ordinary player, even in his junior days when most of the players follow a similar path in their development. In his early years, the Mallorcan competed in the most significant tournaments on the Tennis Europe circuit but was never dedicated to the ITF junior tournaments, preparing himself for the professional Tour at the age when his coevals were only making their first junior steps.
Still at the age of 14, Nadal began his professional journey in January 2001 at Satellites tournaments in Cala Ratjada at home in Spain. The youngster had tried to qualify for the main draw in March and April as well before he got the opportunity to play in the qualifications of the home ATP 250 event in Mallorca, gathering experience and preparing himself for the more challenging battles on the Futures and Challenger Tours, determined to fight against more developed rivals.
His first professional match in the main draw was at Spain F10 Futures in Madrid in September 2001, just three months after turning 15. The talented youngster received a wild card and his first rival was Guillermo Platel-Varas who defeated him 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 but only after saving 13 match points!
Platel-Varas was ranked 731st but struggled to stay in touch with Nadal early on, as Rafa won the first set in dominant style and had so many opportunities to close the match and earn his first ATP point. Guillermo somehow repelled all those match points to steal the set 7-5, sailing through the decider against the broken opponent who had nothing more left in the tank after that heartbreaking second set.
This was only a part of the process and a learning curve for the Mallorcan who quickly forgot this setback, clinching his first pro victory next week in Seville Challenger after ousting Israel Matos Gil 6-4, 6-4 before losing in the second round to world no.
161 Stefano Galvani. On September 24, Rafa made a debut on the ATP ranking list at the 1002nd place and just 12 months later we could have found him in the top-400, carving his way towards the top-100 and the most prominent tennis arenas that would welcome him already in 2003.
As we all know, the rest is pretty much history and Nadal has secured the place among tennis immortals after everything he has achieved in the next 18 years following that terrible loss on this day.