Rafael Nadal became a teenager to watch in 2003, starting the season strong and cracking the top-50 after an incredible mix of Challenger and ATP Tour results. A year later, Nadal was keen to challenge the rivals from above.
He lost to Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open before beating newly crowned No. 1 Roger Federer in Miami. The 17-year-old stunned the tennis king 6-3, 6-3 in 70 minutes in the third round to steal all the headlines. Roger claimed the Indian Wells crown last week.
He didn’t have enough time to recover for Miami, felt signs of illness and fever and never looked good on the pitch. Still, we shouldn’t take anything away from Nadal’s triumph, who plays with no signs of nervousness and does pretty much everything right on the pitch.
Rafa did massive damage with his topspin forehands that bounced high and took time out from Federer’s shots, preventing the Swiss from getting into his usual rhythm. The Spaniard’s defense was already one of the best in the business, building a fortress around the baseline that was almost impossible to penetrate.
He didn’t just rely on that though, attacking whenever he could and playing well-constructed points at the net. Nadal struggled a bit with his backhand but that couldn’t hurt him much as Federer was playing below his level.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played in Miami for the first time in 2004.
Nadal’s serve gave him a significant advantage as he never faced a break chance or a debut, creating space to play more aggressively on the return.
Rafa served 81% and won 31 points from 39 after landing the first serve, impressive numbers for a player whose first shot wasn’t his main weapon. Nadal’s second serve worked like a charm despite playing just nine points with a weaker serve.
He lost 12 points in nine service games, something he could only dream of going into the game. On the other hand, Roger couldn’t follow those numbers behind his serve. He dropped almost 40% of points and played against seven break chances to suffer three times and propel Nadal over the top.
Federer had 16 service winners and Rafa returned the other serves with no trouble. The Spaniard created an instant advantage in the rallies, sending balls back to Roger’s backhand, particularly in the second set. Nadal finished the encounter with nine service winners and a 14-11 advantage in winners from the field, scoring more varied than his rival who had just two winners outside of his forehand.
The Swiss sprayed 17 unforced errors, 12 from his more powerful wing while Nadal stayed on 14 thanks largely to his backhand. The Spaniard made the biggest difference in the forced errors segment, hitting just three with his backhand.
At the same time, Roger counted 16 and spoiled his chances. Thanks to those service winners, Federer came out on top on the shortest points up to four strokes, 31-27, while everything else was on Nadal’s side. Rafa destroyed opponents in the midrange rallies from five to eight shots, making 20 of 27 clears and taking 11 of the longest 16 points to seal his win squeaky clean.