WAY BACK WHEN: Remembering the first ATP title ever won by an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal

If you are asked to think about iconic tennis venues, then Sopot, Poland probably doesn’t leap to mind. If that is the case, though, you probably aren’t a Rafael Nadal fan.

It hasn’t actually been part of the ATP Tour now since 2007, but it holds a unique slice of tennis history.

That is because, all the way back in 2004, it was the venue that saw Rafael Nadal win his first career title.

It was, as is perhaps fitting, a humble competition for one of the mist humble champions sport has ever known to collect his first meaningful silverware. Nowadays it would be called an ATP250, but back then it was part of the International Series.

Nadal was a fresh faced 18-year-old returning from an ankle injury. He was ranked 71st in the world at the time, and that was enough to make him the sixth seed for the competition.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the tournament didn’t attract big names, though. Former world number one Marat Safin was the top seed, and former world number threes Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer were also involved.

So too, though, was clay, and as we know very well now, that means that Nadal was always going to be a serious force to be reckoned with.

Maybe it should surprise no one, then, that Nadal breezed through the tournament without losing a set.

Nadal’s Sopot 2004:

R1: Victor Hanescu 6-4, 6-4
R2: Arnaud Di Pasquale 6-2, 6-4
QF: Franco Squiilari 6-3, 6-4
SF: Felix Mantilla: 7-5, 6-1
F: Jose Acasuso 6-3, 6-4

Safin, incidentally, was knocked out on round two by Marc Lopez, who would later go on to win a Doubles gold medal with Nadal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Ferrer was beaten by Acasuso in the same round, and Davydenko a first-round casualty of Adrian Garcia.

“I needed a tournament win like this after my injury, I just hope that it’s not the last one,” said the 18-year-old Nadal.

“After this tournament, I’ll be in the Top 50. To see me in 70th place after being 30th before my injury, it wasn’t easy.”

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