Marat Safin, Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrer and some others were the most prominent youngsters at the turn of the Millennium, earning Major titles and reaching the ATP throne. Born in 1986, Rafael Nadal was yet to show his true colors, making his first steps on the professional Tour in 2001 and 2002 to find himself on the verge of the top-200 at the age of 15!
Armed with an iron will, unbelievable strength at such a young age and skills to challenge almost anyone on slower surfaces, Rafa made thrilling progress in 2003 to reach the top-50, finding himself in six Challenger finals and conquering two titles.
That alone would have been enough for a notable season but Rafa did much more, reaching the third round at Wimbledon, Monte Carlo and Hamburg and also the semi-final in Umag to become the young gun to watch in the years to come.
Struggling to find the rhythm in the second part of the season due to injuries, Rafa was eager to start all over in 2004, playing in the first ATP final in Auckland and winning two matches on the Australian Open debut against Michal Tabara and Thierry Ascione.
Entering the last 32 at Majors for the second time at the age of 17, Nadal faced the crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt, giving his best in a 7-6, 7-6, 6-2 loss in two and a half hours after having his chances in sets one and two.
Using both of those in the closing stages, Rafa lost steam in the third set to propel Lleyton through and finish his run in the third round. After the match, Rafa was asked about the possibility of becoming world no. 1 in the future, with the young gun hoping to conquer the ATP throne at some point but highlighting how difficult that task is.
"Becoming world no. 1 is quite a complicated process; I hope I can reach that level one day but it depends on a lot of things."