After considerable progress in 2003, Rafael Nadal was ready for an even stronger charge in the following season, reaching the first ATP final in Auckland and advancing into the Australian Open third round. In Miami, the 17-year-old stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in straight sets, marching towards the top-30 before a left ankle injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril halted his progress. Rafa had to miss Roland Garros and Wimbledon, returning in July in Bastad. Following the quarter-final run in Sweden and Stuttgart, Rafa experienced early losses in Canada and Cincinnati and went back to Europe to enter a small ATP 250 event in Sopot.
Rafael Nadal had to skip a couple of months in 2004 due to an injury.
The youngster went all the way against the rivals from outside the top-80 to lift the first ATP crown as the youngest player since 1998, taking well-deserved rest and making a return at the US Open. In the first round in New York, Rafa toppled the Swiss Ivo Heuberger in five sets, struggling in sets three and four before claiming the victory in the decider to set the clash against world no. 2 and the defending champion Andy Roddick. One of the title favorites proved to be too strong for the Spaniard, scoring a dominant 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 36 minutes. Despite serving at 82%, Nadal couldn’t do anything with his initial shot, giving serve away seven times and dealing with his elbow that prevented him from playing at his usual level on the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I didn’t feel like I could serve my best today; I had a bit of trouble with my elbow. Against someone like Roddick, it isn’t easy without serving your best. I think I didn’t play at my best today, and you can’t beat Andy Roddick without showing your A-game. After that opening set’s bagel, I wasn’t that nervous in set number two as in the first. I was 30-0 in the first game of the match before getting broken, which is never easy against such a great server. There’s a difference between the rivals I had played in Sopot and Andy Roddick; there were good players but ranked outside the top-50. Also, I won that event on clay. After that injury from April, I played on a high level only two or three times, like in Stuttgart and Bastad,” Rafael Nadal said.