In Rafael Nadal's words: 'It was great week for me in Sopot, winning the first title'

Tennis - In 2004, Rafa claimed the first ATP title in Sopot on clay, becoming the youngest ATP champion since 1998

by Jovica Ilic
In Rafael Nadal's words: 'It was great week for me in Sopot, winning the first title'

An 18-year-old Rafael Nadal lost in straight sets to Andy Roddick in the second round of the US Open 2004, not feeling well on the court and unable to battle against the better-ranked opponent in front of his fans. Nadal came to New York after claiming the first ATP title in Sopot a couple of weeks earlier, making the best possible return after an ankle injury that sidelined him from Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Rafa had stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in Miami before suffering that injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril, staying away from the court until Bastad in July and slowly building the form again. After an early loss in Cincinnati, Nadal decided to go back to Europe to his beloved clay, entering a weak ATP 250 event in Sopot.

Facing only one player from the top-100, Rafa defeated all five rivals in straight sets to lift the maiden ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest champion on the Tour since Lleyton Hewitt in Adelaide at the beginning of 1998!

Nadal's most significant obstacle in terms of ranking was Victor Hanescu in the first round and a teenager won that one 6-4, 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book the spot in round two. There, he ousted Arnaud Di Pasquale for the place in already the fifth ATP quarter-final of the season.

Instead of Friday, the rain pushed his quarter-final clash with Franco Squillari on Saturday, breaking the opponent four times to forge a 6-3, 6-4 triumph and stay on the title course. Later that day, a former Rome and Barcelona champion Felix Mantilla awaited in the semis and Rafa overpowered the more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-1, taking a tight first set and dominating in the second after creating 14 break chances overall.

Like that wasn't enough, Nadal also played the doubles semi-final with Alberto Martin, losing in two close sets to Martin Garcia and Sebastian Prieto, finishing the Saturday's duties and preparing for a big day on Sunday!

Jose Acasuso stood between Rafa and his first ATP title and the young Spaniard celebrated a 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 36 minutes, in what was a close battle with no less than 25 break chances in total! In the manner of more experienced champions, Nadal repelled 11 out of 12 opportunities offered to Acasuso and broke him three times from 13 possibilities to clinch the win in straight sets and lift the maiden ATP trophy at the age of 18.

The first break occurred in the eighth game when Nadal moved 5-3 in front before closing the set with a hold a few minutes later, taking the momentum before set number two. Two breaks of serve were enough for the Spaniard to clinch it 6-4 and seal the deal, becoming the youngest ATP champion in six and a half years.

"I like the event in Sopot because I won the title there. It was a great tournament for me and an entire week overall."

Rafael Nadal