Two decades after his first ATP match, Rafael Nadal is still among the best players in the world. Rafa has won 22 Major titles and 36 Masters 1000 trophies, overcoming numerous injuries and giving everything to prolong his career.
Nadal has been in the top-10 for more than 17 years without leaving the elite group he reached in 2005 and never left. Nadal’s first ATP title came in Sopot in August 2004 at the age of 18, with much higher aspirations for the following season.
Rafa spoke at the start of the season in Melbourne about his main goals for 2005. The youngster cited a top 15 finish and his first appearance at Roland Garros as his main goals. The Spaniard gained 150 spots on the list in 2003 after his first Challenger titles and victories in the Majors and Masters 1000.
Rafa had to miss Roland Garros in 2003 and 2004 through injury and he was keen to change that in 2005. Nadal started the season with the fourth round at the Australian Open. Rafa defeated Julien Benneteau, Mikhail Youzhny and Bobby Reynolds before giving his 120% against Lleyton Hewitt.
Still, the Australian prevailed 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-2 after three hours and 53 minutes to stop the youngster from progressing. Hewitt won just two points more than Nadal, who held a comfortable lead over the local hero in sets two and three.
Dominating on serve and return, Rafa missed a chance to seal the deal in the fourth. The teenager ran out of breath in the decider and handed the win to his rival. After the match, Nadal said he played at a high level despite ending on the losing side.
He was hoping to sneak into the top-20 or top-15 for the rest of the season and eventually make his debut at Roland Garros.
Nadal plays at the Canadian Open
In his book “Rafael Nadal: My Story”, the former world number one described what his uncle told him before the big match.
An excerpt from his book reads: “Ask Toni Nadal what his last words were to his nephew before he left the Wimbledon dressing room at the start of the 2008 final and he will tell you: ‘I told him to see by fight and endure to the end”.
Ask him why Rafa made it to the top of world tennis and he will answer: “Because it’s all in your head, in your attitude, in wanting more, in enduring more than your rival”. Nadal has also detailed what Toni tells him during his injury recovery; “Ask him what he says to Rafa on those days when the body rebels and the pain seems too great to compete on the pitch and his answer will be: I say to him: ‘Look, you have two paths to Choices: tell yourself you’ve had enough and we’re leaving, or prepare to suffer and move on. The choice is between persevering and giving up.’ ”