Rafael Nadal became a teenager to be reckoned with in 2003, making a strong start to the season and breaking into the top-50 after an incredible mix of Challenger and ATP Tour results. A year later, Nadal was eager to challenge rivals at the top.
He lost to Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open before facing newly crowned No. 1 Roger Federer in Miami. The 17-year-old stunned the king of tennis 6-3 6-3 in the third round in 70 minutes to steal all the headlines. Roger claimed the Indian Wells crown the week before.
He didn’t have enough time to recover for Miami, feeling signs of illness and fever, and never looked good on the court. Still, nothing should be detracted from Nadal’s triumph, as he played without any sign of nerves and did almost everything well on court.
Rafa did a lot of damage with his topspin forehands that bounced high and took time away from Federer’s shots, preventing the Swiss from settling into his usual rhythm. The Spaniard’s defense was already one of the best, building a fortress around the baseline that was almost impossible to penetrate.
But he didn’t just rely on that, he attacked whenever he could and played well-constructed points at the net. Nadal had a bit of trouble with his backhand, but that couldn’t hurt him too much as Federer played below his level.
Nadal’s serve gave him a considerable advantage as he never faced a break chance or a deuce and created room to play more aggressively on the return. Rafa served at 81% and won 31 of 39 points after conceding the first serve, impressive numbers for a player whose serve was not his main weapon.
Nadal’s second serve worked like a charm, although he only played nine points on a weaker serve.
In a recent interview, Paul Annacone opened up on Roger Federer. “He had a great chance that year,” Annacone said.
“He beat Novak in the semis, and Novak hadn’t lost the entire year going into the French Open. Against Rafa, he was up 5-2 in the first set and had set points. Tried a drop shot which was a lot bit of a bailout shot.
Lost that set and a tough four-setter.” How does an ambitious athlete get over a loss like that? With detachment and acceptance, in Federer’s case. “When he was done he was very proud of what he had done in the tournament,” said Annacone.
“He’s very good at detaching from that emotion in a natural way. Where he doesn’t deny the emotion, where he doesn’t come up with excuses for losing, where he doesn’t blame anything. He just processes it in a really healthy way, and I think that’s why at 41 years of age he’s still playing”.