After making stellar progress through the ATP ranking list in 2003, Rafael Nadal was ready for more in the next one, advancing to his first ATP final at the age of 17 in Auckland and playing well at the Australian Open as well.
Nadal got the opportunity to make the Davis Cup debut against the Czech Republic in February, delivering the decisive triumph over Radek Stepanek in the fifth rubber to send Spain into the quarter-final. From there, they hosted three rivals on beloved clay and became favorites to lift the second Davis Cup title after 2000.
Nadal couldn't play against the Netherlands, having to skip three months between April and July due to an ankle injury and making a steady return to win the first ATP title in Sopot in August. Rafa didn't play well until the end of the season but there was nothing wrong with his game in two Davis Cup rubbers, defeating Arnaud Clement in the semi-final in straight sets and earning his spot in the squad for the final against the USA in Seville.
In front of the crowd of 25,000, the young gun stepped on instead of Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second rubber and defeated world no. 2 Andy Roddick 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2 in three hours and 38 minutes for one of his most significant victories up to that point, propelling Spain 2-0 in front before Saturday's doubles rubber.
"Playing in the Davis Cup final was always a dream for me. It is very important for me to be part of the team and get a chance to compete on the court. It was a great match against Roddick and I'm happy to deliver the second point for our country.
It is always critical to winning encounters like this, not only for myself but for the rest of the squad and our captain. We are in a good position now. I'm quite used to celebrating points, especially in the Davis Cup ties.
I had a lot of support from the crowd of 25,000 and it was hard to control emotions in those big points. I will have to tame my celebrations a little bit in the future as I started cramping because of too many jumps during those moments.
I was excited at the end of the first set; I had to calm down and recapitulate my game, which I did in the second set. I think the crowd behaved quite correctly. Sometimes they were making noise between Roddick's two serves but that would stop after a few words from the umpire. You have to go to Argentina, Brazil and Chile to experience their cheering."