An 18-year-old Rafael Nadal lost in straight sets to Andy Roddick in the second round of the US Open 2004, not feeling well on the court and failing to battle against the better-ranked opponent and the crowd favorite. Nadal came to New York after claiming the first ATP title in Sopot a couple of weeks earlier, making the best return after an ankle injury that sidelined him from Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Rafa had stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in Miami before suffering that injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril, staying away from the court until Bastad in July and slowly building the form again. After an early loss in Cincinnati, Nadal decided to go back to Europe to his beloved clay and enter a small ATP 250 event in Sopot.
Facing only one the top-100 rival, Rafa defeated all five opponents in straight sets to lift the maiden ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest champion on the Tour since Lleyton Hewitt in Adelaide at the beginning of 1998!
Nadal's most significant obstacle in terms of ranking was Victor Hanescu in the first round, and a teenager won that one 6-4, 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book the spot in round two. He ousted Arnaud Di Pasquale for the place in already the season's fifth ATP quarter-final.
Instead of Friday, the rain pushed his quarter-final clash with Franco Squillari to Saturday, with Rafa breaking the opponent four times to forge a 6-3, 6-4 triumph and stay on the title course. Later that day, a former Rome and Barcelona champion Felix Mantilla awaited in the semis.
Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in Sopot 2004, still at 18.
Nadal overpowered the more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-1, taking a tight first set and dominating second after creating 14 break chances overall. Like that wasn't enough, Nadal also played the doubles semi-final with Alberto Martin, losing in two close sets to Martin Garcia and Sebastian Prieto, finishing Saturday's duties and preparing for a big day on Sunday!
Jose Acasuso stood between Rafa and his first ATP title, and the young Spaniard celebrated a 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 36 minutes, in what was a close battle with no less than 25 break chances! In a manner of more experienced champions, Nadal repelled 11 out of 12 opportunities offered to Acasuso and broke him three times from 13 possibilities to clinch the victory in straight sets and lift the maiden ATP trophy at 18.
The first break occurred in the eighth game when Nadal moved 5-3 in front before closing the set with a hold a few minutes later, taking the momentum ahead of the second. Two breaks of serve were enough for the Spaniard to clinch it 6-4 and seal the deal, becoming the youngest ATP champion in six and a half years.
"I like the event in Sopot because I won the title there. It was a great tournament for me and an entire week overall," Rafael Nadal said.