Photo: Paul ZimmerRafael Nadal
Week commencing: 8th July 2002
Occasion: First Professional singles title
The week commencing July 8th 2002 saw Alicante on Spain’s east coast, play host to the ITF Men’s Circuit Futures F5 tournament. It was at this tournament that a recently turned 16-year old Spaniard, playing in only his second Futures singles main draw event, won his first Professional singles title. His name, Rafael Nadal.
Hailing from Manacor on the island of Mallorca, this left-handed nephew of Miguel Angel Nadal, then a highly successful Spanish international footballer, was then playing under his full name of Rafael Nadal-Parera and his only previous appearance in a Futures singles main draw, 10 months earlier, ended in defeat in the opening round.
Ranked at 598 in the ATP singles ranking list coming into this tournament, Rafael saw off competition from four fellow Spaniards, all in straight sets, en-route to the final where he needed three sets to take the title, again against a Spanish opponent. The points Rafael earned in this tournament took him into the world top 500 for the first time and he has not looked back since.
This tournament proved to be a springboard to further success for this tennis legend in the making and by the end of 2002 Rafael had won a total of six Futures singles titles and also played his part in winning the Junior Davis Cup for Spain.
The ATP singles rankings at the end of December 2002 showed Rafael ranked at number 200, a huge increase on his opening ranking of 810 at the start of January 2002.
Six years on from his first Professional singles title, Rafael is now a 5-time Grand Slam champion and has also followed up his Junior Davis Cup success by being part of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title winning side of 2004.
This week is also the third anniversary of Rafael ascending to number 2 in the ATP rankings, a position he has held since 25th July 2005 and he is rapidly closing in on long time world number 1 Roger Federer.
Now at the age of just 22, Rafael is already firmly established as a fan favourite around the world and is indisputably one of the games all time greats.