Two decades after playing 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 extend his career.
Nadal has been in the top-10 for more than 17 years without leaving the elite group, which he reached in 2005 and from which he never left. Nadal’s first ATP title came in Sopot, in August 2004, at the age of 18, with much higher goals for the following season.
Rafa discussed his main goals for 2005 at the start of the season in Melbourne. The youngster mentioned a place in the top 15 and his first appearance at Roland Garros as his main goals. The Spaniard gained 150 places on the list in 2003 following his first Challenger titles and wins at the Majors and Masters 1000.
Rafa had to miss Roland Garros in 2003 and 2004 due to injuries, 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 advancing. Hewitt won just two points more than Nadal, who had a clear lead over the local star in sets two and three.
Rafa dominated on serve and return and missed a chance to seal the deal in the fourth. The teenager ran out of steam in the decider and handed the victory over to his rival. After the match, Nadal said that he had played at a high level despite finishing on the losing side.
He hoped to sneak into the top-20 or top-15 for the remainder of the season and finally debut at Roland Garros.
Nadal will play 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 extract from his book reads, “Ask Toni Nadal what his last words were to his nephew before he left the Wimbledon locker room at the start of the 2008 final and he’ll tell you: “I told him to battle to the end and endure”.
Ask him why Rafa has made it to the top of world tennis and he’ll reply: “Because it’s all in the head, in your attitude, in wanting more, in enduring more than your rival”. Nadal has also described what Toni says to him during his recovery from injuries; “Ask him what he says to Rafa on those days when the body rebels and the pain seems too great to compete on court, and his reply will be: I say to him, ‘Look, you’ve got two roads to choose from: tell yourself you’ve had enough and we leave, or be prepared to suffer and keep going. The choice is between enduring and giving up.’ ”