Rafael Nadal was 17 when the 2004 season began, reaching his first ATP final and fighting hard at the Australian Open in the first month. After his first Davis Cup victory and the third round at Indian Wells, Rafa was hungry for more in Miami. The youngster defeated a former Wimbledon champion, Goran Ivanisevic, in the second round to set up a meeting with the newly crowned no. 1, Roger Federer, on March 28, in the opening chapter of one of the greatest rivalries in our sport. At 17 years, nine months and 25 days, Nadal added a sensational 6-3, 6-3 win in a quick 70 minutes to become the youngest player to win over no. 1 since the formation of the ATP Tour in 1990. Despite the obvious talent and iron will of the young Spaniard, no one could have predicted this outcome, not against the player who conquered the Australian Open, Dubai and Indian Wells in the previous months and lost just one match. A week earlier, Roger claimed the Indian Wells title and had only a couple of days to physically recover and prepare for the next event, feeling signs of illness and fever and never looking good on the court against Rafa. The Swiss barely survived a challenge from Nikolay Davydenko in the previous round and the young Spaniard had nothing left in the tank, coming out in straight sets and sending the teenager to the knockout stages. We must not take anything away from Nadal’s triumph as he delivered an impressive victory and did almost everything right on the court. Rafa did massive damage with his right tops with topspin that bounced high and took time off Federer’s shots, keeping the opponent out of the comfort zone and causing numerous errors. The Spaniard’s defense was already impressive, and he built a fortress around the baseline that was nearly impossible to penetrate, even for an attacker as good as Roger.
The Swiss Maestro faced a setback in his knee
Roger Federer claimed he was happy to have gotten past Pete Sampras’ old record of 14 Majors and that he was under no pressure to add to his tally. “It seems it’s all about Grand Slam titles nowadays and I don’t like that,” Roger Federer said. “When I came on the tour, it wasn’t just about the Slams. It was Pete Sampras who triggered this and suddenly said that now only the Slams would be of interest to him. In the future, more players will win Grand Slam tournaments anyway,” he added. “The Slams have certainly given me a lot, and they offer tennis a big stage but after my 15th I didn’t really care whether I had 15, 16, 17 or 18. I just wanted to break Sampras’ record, everything else was a bonus. As long as we (three) play everything is possible, at the end, the accounting will be done.”