Rafael Nadal lifted his first ATP trophy in Sopot 2004
Rafael Nadal claimed his first ATP title 19 years ago in Sopot! Rafa struggled with injuries that season, and the first ATP trophy came at the right moment, announcing his arrival and incredible run in the following year. Nadal had barely played junior events before embracing a pro career, pushing the age limits like almost no one before and finding himself in the top-50 in 2003 at 17!
The Spaniard delivered 14 ATP wins that season, setting the stage for an even stronger 2004, especially after the first ATP final in Auckland at the beginning of the year.Rafa stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer in Miami in two easy sets before suffering a left ankle injury in Estoril.
It forced the young gun to miss almost three months, prolonging his Roland Garros debut. The Spaniard returned in July and lost to Gaston Gaudio and David Ferrer in the quarter-final in Bastad and Stuttgart. The youngster could not find the form in North America, experiencing early losses in Toronto and Cincinnati.
Nadal returned to Europe and his beloved clay, entering a weak ATP 250 event in Sopot. Facing only one player from the top-100, Rafa defeated five rivals in straight sets to lift the maiden ATP crown on August 15, becoming the youngest ATP champion since Lleyton Hewitt in Adelaide 1998!
Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in Sopot 2004 at 18.
Nadal’s most significant ranking obstacle was Victor Hanescu in the first round. A teenager delivered a 6-4, 6-4 triumph in 80 minutes, breaking the Romanian three times to book a spot in round two.
He ousted Arnaud Di Pasquale for a place in his fifth ATP quarter-final that year. Instead of Friday, Nadal met Franco Squillari on Saturday due to rain. The youngster broke the opponent four times to forge a 6-3, 6-4 triumph and stay on the title course.
Later that day, a former Rome and Barcelona champion Felix Mantilla awaited in the semi-final. Rafa overpowered the more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-1, creating 14 break chances and dominating in set number two. Like that was not enough, Nadal also played in the doubles semi-final with Alberto Martin.
They lost to Martin Garcia and Sebastian Prieto in two close sets, finishing challenging duties and preparing for a big day on Sunday! Jose Acasuso stood between Rafa and his first ATP title. The young Spaniard claimed a 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 36 minutes in a tight encounter with 25 break chances!
In a manner of experienced champions, Nadal repelled 11 out of 12 opportunities offered to Acasuso. He broke the Argentine three times to seal the deal in straight sets and lift his maiden ATP trophy at 18. The first break occurred in the opener’s eighth game when Nadal moved 5-3 in front.
He closed the set with a hold a few minutes later, gaining a boost. Two breaks of serve in set number two were enough for the Spaniard to clinch it 6-4 and seal the deal, becoming the youngest ATP champion in six and a half years.