After making stellar progress through the ATP ranking list in 2003, Rafael Nadal couldn't gain positions in the next season, missing three months during a left wrist injury and not finding the rhythm by the end of the season despite winning the first ATP title in Sopot.
At the end of 2004, Rafa defeated world no. 2 Andy Roddick in the Davis Cup final in Seville, helping his country to claim the second Davis Cup crown and gathering boost ahead of 2005. There, the youngest couldn't play at his best in Doha and Auckland, bouncing back at the Australian Open to reach the fourth round at Majors for the first time, suffering a tough five-setter loss to Lleyton Hewitt.
Deciding to embrace South American clay-court swing, Nadal won titles in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco, earning enough points to find himself on the verge of the top-30 and skipping Indian Wells due to sickness. In 2004, Nadal toppled world no.
1 Roger Federer in Miami and his run was even stronger a year later, beating Rainer Schuettler, Fernando Verdasco, Ivan Ljubicic, Thomas Johansson and David Ferrer to become the second-youngest Masters 1000 finalist after Michael Chang in 1990, setting another clash with Federer in the battle for the first notable crown of his young career.
After an epic fight, the Swiss earned a 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1 triumph in three hours and 43 minutes, finding himself over the top despite a 6-2, 7-6, 4-1 deficit at one point! Roger was two points away from the loss in that third set, staying composed and winning the set from 5-3 down in the tie break.
With momentum on his side, Federer had the upper hand in sets four and five, serving well and doing enough damage on the return to seal the deal and celebrate the first title in Miami. Nadal wasn't happy about the outcome but his game was right there, hoping to improve the initial shot in the months to come and chase big titles on clay.
"I'm doing a lot of things well but would also love to improve my serve and get more free points from the initial shot. Also, I have to control my shots more effectively and place them more accurately."