Rafael Nadal was never an ordinary player, even in his junior days, when most players follow a similar path in their development. In his early years, the great Mallorcan had competed in the most significant events on the Tennis Europe circuit, but was never a fan of the ITF junior tournaments, preparing himself for the professional Tour at the age when the other competitors were only starting to make their first junior steps.
Still at 14, Nadal had begun his professional journey in January 2001 at Satellites tournaments in Cala Ratjada at home in Spain. He had tried to qualify for the main draw in March and April as well before he got a chance to play in the qualifications of the home ATP 250 event in Mallorca, gathering experience and preparing himself for the more challenging battles on the Futures and Challenger Tours.
His first professional match in the main draw was at Spain F10 Futures in Madrid in September 2001, just three months after turning 15. The talented youngster received a wild card, and his first rival was Guillermo Platel-Varas, who defeated him 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, but only after saving 13 match points!
Platel-Varas was ranked 731st and he struggled to stay in touch with Nadal in the early stages, with Rafa winning the first set in dominant style, with so many opportunities to close the encounter and earn his first ATP point.
Guillermo somehow fended off all those match points to steal the set 7-5, sailing through the decider against the youngster who had nothing more left in the tank after that heartbreaking second set. This setback was only a part of the process and a learning curve for the Mallorcan who quickly forgot it, clinching his first pro victory next week in Seville Challenger after ousting Israel Matos Gil 6-4, 6-4 before losing in the second round to world no.
161 Stefano Galvani.
Rafael Nadal didn't have a successful debut at Futures in Madrid 2001.
On September 24, Rafa made a debut on the ATP rankings list at the 1002nd place, needing just 12 months to find himself in the top-400 and carving his way towards the top-100 and the most prominent tennis arenas that would welcome him already in 2003.
As we all know, the rest is pretty much history. Almost two decades after this entertaining match, Nadal is among the world's best players, collecting 19 Majors and 35 Masters 1000 crowns to become one of the greatest players in our sport's history.
Rafa will compete in Rome next week, seeking the 36th Masters 1000 title and the second of the season after Acapulco in February, missing more than six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.