Rafael Nadal barely played junior tournaments, focusing on his pro career at 15 and scoring the first ATP win at the same age in 2002. The youngster was ready to challenge the more experienced rivals in Futures and Challengers, finishing the mentioned season a few places outside the top-200 and cracking the top-50 in 2003 after an impressive run at Challengers and the ATP Tour.
The youngster had to deal with injuries in 2003 and 2004, still doing enough to keep himself around the 50th spot and winning the first ATP crown at 18 in Sopot 2004. A teenager claimed one of Spain's crucial points against the USA in the Davis Cup final in Seville at the end of that season, gathering momentum and becoming one of the world's best players in 2005.
Toni Nadal spoke about his nephew's first steps on the Tour.
The Spaniard lost the Miami final in five sets to Roger Federer before claiming his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo a few weeks later and cracking the top-10 later in April.
As we all know, Rafa would win the Rome and Roland Garros crowns in May and June, entering the history books and becoming the last teenager with a Major title. Speaking about Rafa's early days, his long-time coach and uncle Toni Nadal said they had to deal with Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick Guillermo Coria and Marat Safin, which wasn't easy for a player at Rafa's age.
Still, they found a way to prepare Rafa for all those matches and guide him towards the top. "Many great young players were there when Rafa made the first professional steps, including Federer, Roddick, Hewitt, Coria, Nalbandian, Ferrero, Safin.
They were all young, and it seemed that it would be tough to reach the top. I knew we have to prepare well to fight against those rivals. Rafa is upbeat, playing pretty well from what I've seen in training sessions in Mallorca.
I think he can do a good dirt tour. I'm Rafa's uncle and director of his tennis complex in Mallorca. Above all that, I have a special affection for my nephew. Forgetting that I'm his uncle, I've been linked to him for many years, and the day Rafa and Felix eventually play, I won't be in either box out of respect to them both," Toni Nadal said.