Despite the fact he couldn't make any progress through the ATP list in 2004, Rafael Nadal was still the young gun to beat at the beginning of the new season. Nadal reached the fourth round at the Australian Open and claimed two ATP titles on clay in South America, skipping Indian Wells and returning in Miami where he proved his skills again.
The Spaniard advanced to his biggest final in a young career, playing on a high level and standing two points away from beating world no. 1 Roger Federer in straight sets.
Federer remained composed, though, overcoming a deficit in the third set and stealing the tie break to gain a massive boost, dominating in sets four and five to secure the title and leave the youngster empty-handed.
With no time to rest, Rafa went to Valencia where he lost to Igor Andreev in the quarters, taking a few days off and hoping for a better run in Monte Carlo. Missing the first Masters 1000 event of the season due to an injury in 2004, Nadal made a winning return a year later, beating Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 24 minutes.
"I had an impressive start of the year, playing a lot and getting a bit tired. I played well against Federer in Miami and this tournament is important for me as well. The pressure is on me and this is the most significant event of the season for me.
Still, I don't feel like the title favorite. Two years ago, I was 16 and just wanted to win a match here. It is different this time and every victory counts. For me, the favorites in Monte Carlo are Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Roger Federer; I'm not playing well enough.
I played well today but I still have to improve my game and ranking." Rafael Nadal controlled the pace in the more extended rallies, delivering five breaks and moving into the next round to face Xavier Malisse.