After remarkable 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 and marched towards the top-30 before a left ankle injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril halted his progress. The young Spaniard had to miss Roland Garros and Wimbledon, returning to the court in Bastad in July. After Bastad and Stuttgart’s quarter-final run, Rafa experienced early losses in Toronto and Cincinnati before heading back to Europe and entering a small ATP 250 event in Sopot on his beloved clay. Nadal 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.
Rafael Nadal lost to Andy Roddick at the US Open 2004 in straight sets.
In the first round, 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 a teenager, as Roddick earned a commanding 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 36 minutes, dominating in the opener and doing enough in sets two and three to seal the deal in straight sets. Despite serving at 82%, Nadal could not do anything with his initial shot. He suffered seven breaks and dealt with his elbow, unable to present his usual tennis on the Arthur Ashe Stadium and experiencing an early exit. After the match, Rafa admitted he needed a higher level to challenge such a strong rival, especially after missing a couple of months and losing his rhythm.
“I did not feel like I could serve my best today, feeling a bit of trouble with my arm, my elbow. I understand it is not easy without serving your best against someone like Roddick. I think I did not play at my best today, and you can not beat Andy Roddick without showing your A-game. After that bagel in the opening set, I was not that nervous in set number two as in the first. I was 30-0 in the match’s first game before getting broken, which is never easy against Roddick. 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.