While his coevals were making their first steps on the junior tour, Rafael Nadal took a different approach, confident in his quality and ambitious to find himself on the main tennis scene as soon as possible. The Spaniard played just two events on the ITF junior Tour after turning 16 in 2002, reaching the semi-final at Wimbledon and winning the Junior Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final before switching his focus to professional tennis where he started to compete at the age of 14 at the beginning of 2001!
Battling against much older and experienced players, Nadal failed to qualify for home Satellites and Futures, getting a chance to compete in the qualifying round of the ATP 250 event at home in Mallorca. Rafa made his pro debut in the main draws at Spain F10 Futures in Madrid on September 11, 2001, wasting no less than 13 match points against Guillermo Platel-Varas in the opening round, overcoming a tough loss and looking determined to grab the first win at the very next event!
A week later, the youngster received a wild card at Seville Challenger for a debut on that level, ousting world no. 751 Israel Matos Gil 6-4, 6-4 to claim his first pro win and earn the first five points in a career. On September 24, Rafael Nadal entered the ATP rankings, placed just outside the top-1000 and as the third-youngest player after Ivan Puchkarov and Richard Gasquet.
By the end of 2001, Nadal scored seven more wins at Spain 7 Masters to finish the year just outside the top-800 before making stellar progress in 2002 to crack the top-200. In April 2005, Rafa cracked the top-10 and stayed there ever since, collecting more than 750 weeks in that group and additional 700 in the top-5, standing as one of the best players in the world 18 years after he made his first appearance on the ATP ranking list.