Instead of focusing on the junior events, the 15-year-old Rafael Nadal had other plans in 2002, making further steps on the professional tour and gathering experience that would help him in the years to come. On this day, the youngster made an ATP debut at home ATP 250 event in Mallorca, receiving a wild card as one of the most promising players of his generation, both in Spain and worldwide.
Rafa needed no second invitation to reveal his full potential, toppling the top-100 player Ramon Delgado from Paraguay 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 23 minutes to join an exclusive list of nine players with an ATP win before turning 16 (Richard Gasquet did that in Monte Carlo a few weeks earlier).
At the age of 15, ordinary competitors are only starting their junior careers but Nadal was in some different world, embracing the professional journey a year earlier and earning the first pro victory at Sevilla Challenger in September for a debut on the ATP list.
By April 2002, Rafa had already cracked the top-800 and a wild card for the ATP 250 event at his home in Mallorca was a natural step in his fast development. The young Spaniard grabbed it with both hands, breaking Delgado's serve five times from seven opportunities and fending off six out of nine break points he faced to overpower almost ten years older opponent with steady and consistent groundstrokes that were the sign of what is about to come in two or three years.
Juniors often struggle to find their first serve but Rafa landed in 59 out of 66 first serves versus Delgado, which helped him to control the pace and enter history books. Olivier Rochus ousted the young Mallorcan 6-2, 6-2 in the second round, although he was more than happy with the way he performed in his first ATP tournament, looking eager to show even more in the rest of the season.
Nadal turned 16 in June and conquered his first Futures title in Alicante just a month later, followed by jaw-dropping five by the end of the year, a feat that was hard to repeat for much more experienced and better-ranked players than him!
Also, Rafa advanced into the first Challenger semi-final in Barcelona and ended the season inside the top-200 still way before the 17th birthday, hoping for an even bigger run in 2003! In that following season, Nadal was already a well-established clay-courter, winning Challenger titles and scoring Masters 1000 wins at the age of 16, almost reaching the first ATP final in Umag in July.
The rest is pretty much history and it all started in Mallorca at the end of April 2002, playing with the same passion and motivation for the last 18 years later despite already achieving almost everything he could long time ago.