After considerable progress in 2003, Rafael Nadal was ready for an even stronger charge in the following season. The 17-year-old reached the first ATP final in Auckland early in the 2004 season and advanced to the third round of the Australian Open. In Miami, Rafa surprised world no. 1 Roger Federer, in straight sets, moving into the top 30 before suffering a left ankle injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril that halted his progress. Nadal missed Roland Garros and Wimbledon and returned in July in Bastad. After quarter-finals in Sweden and Stuttgart, Rafa experienced early losses in Canada and Cincinnati and returned to Europe to take part in a small ATP 250 event in Sopot on clay. The youngster went all the way against opponents outside the top 80 to lift his first ATP crown as the youngest ATP champion since 1998, taking a well-earned break and returning to the US Open. Rafa dropped Switzerland’s Ivo Heuberger in five sets in the first round in New York. The teenager battled through sets three and four before claiming victory in the decider to set up the clash against world no.2 and defending champion Andy Roddick. One of the title favorites proved too strong for the Spaniard and he scored a dominant 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 36 minutes. Despite serving at 82%, Nadal could do nothing with his serve, dropping serve seven times and dealing with an elbow that prevented him from playing at his usual level at Arthur Ashe Stadium. After the match, Nadal praised his opponent and stated that he can’t beat him without delivering his best game, which he couldn’t do. “I didn’t feel like I could serve my best today; I had a little problem with my elbow. Against someone like Roddick, it’s not easy if you don’t get the best of yourself. I didn’t play at my best today, and you can’t beat Andy Roddick without showing your best game.
Mouratoglou on Rafa Nadal
Renowned coach Patrick Mouratoglou recently explained the science behind Rafael Nadal’s lethal topspin forehand. “He started with very strong claycourt trends, but throughout the years he has technically worked a lot on it to make it adaptable to every surface,” Mouratoglou said. “He starts his preparation in a traditional way by using his non-dominant arm to push his racquet back, head of his racquet points at the sky. Look now, it’s only while his racquet head is dropping to start his motion in the direction of the ball that his right arm is starting to move forward. At the same time, his bodyweight moves from the back to the front, to create a strong body transfer.”