Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in Sopot in August 2004 at 18, earning more notable victories like the one against Roger Federer in Miami but failing to make progress through the rankings for the first time after becoming a pro. The main reason for that lies in the fact he had to skip three months between April and July due to an ankle injury suffered in Estoril, sidelined from Roland Garros and Wimbledon and failing to make an anticipated Roland Garros debut for the second straight season. In 2003, the Spaniard gained 150 places on the ATP ranking list, earned his first Masters 1000 and Major triumphs and delivered two Challenger titles from six finals to find himself in the top-50.
Still, the youngster had to miss Roland Garros due to an elbow injury, returning at Wimbledon and becoming one of the youngest players in the third round in the event’s history. Rafa had a solid run at the Australian Open and the US Open in 2004, hoping for more of the same in the next season and to finally make the first appearance in Paris, ready to challenge all the rivals on the beloved surface. Four and a half months earlier, Nadal reached the Australian Open fourth round, beating Julien Benneteau, Mikhail Youzhny and Bobby Reynolds and giving his 120% against Lleyton Hewitt before suffering a 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-2 loss after three hours and 53 minutes.
Rafael Nadal revealed his season’s goals at the Australian Open 2005.
Hewitt won just two points more than Nadal, who had a clear advantage over the home star in sets two and three, dominating both serve and return and just missing a chance to seal the deal in four sets and oust world no. 3. Rafa grabbed five breaks, and Lleyton had six on his tally, delivering his best tennis in the fourth set tie break where he had no room for errors and racing through a decider to leave a teenager on the losing side. After the encounter, Nadal said he played on a high level despite the loss, hoping to crack the top-20 or top-15 in the rest of the season and finally make the Roland Garros debut.
“My mission is to finally play at the French Open and crack the top-20 or top-15 this season.”