WATCH: Nadal returns to action this week at the Western & Southern Open, his first event since Wimbledon.

Right from the start of his career, Rafael Nadal’s story arc was defined by three plot lines: dazzling performances, significant injuries, splendid comebacks.

In June 2003, just after he’d missed Roland Garros due to an elbow injury, Nadal turned 17 and reached the third round at Wimbledon. That effort made him the youngest man to go that far since 16-year-old Boris Becker’s 1984 debut.

Nadal’s 2004 was a rollercoaster. In January, at an event in Auckland, he went all the way to the finals for the first time, beaten 7-5 in the third by Dominik Hrbaty. In March, ranked No. 34, Nadal played top-ranked Roger Federer for the first time and earned a surprising 6-3, 6-3 upset victory.

But a month later, while playing a clay court event in Estoril, Nadal suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle joint that took him away from competition for more than two months. That injury forced Nadal to once again withdraw from Roland Garros and, this time, Wimbledon.


Nadal would go on to end 2004 by leading Spain to victory in Davis Cup, foreshadowing his phenomenal 2005 and first Roland Garros victory.

Nadal would go on to end 2004 by leading Spain to victory in Davis Cup, foreshadowing his phenomenal 2005 and first Roland Garros victory.

Back to the ATP Tour in early July, Nadal generated solid results on clay, a pair of quarterfinal runs in Båstad and Stuttgart. But then came two first round losses at North American hard-court events in Toronto and Cincinnati. Following Cincinnati, Nadal went back across the Atlantic to compete at a tournament in Sopot, Poland. Having lost points from the ’03 Wimbledon effort, Nadal was ranked No. 71.

But in Sopot, all came together. Nadal that week won all ten sets he played, including wins over solid clay-courters Franco Squillari in the quarters and Felix Mantilla in the semis.

This second singles final was easier than the first. On August 15, 2004, Nadal beat Jose Acasuso, 6-3, 6-4. Much of the Nadal genius was already on display in this match—the lacerating forehand, superb court coverage, and, of course, wire-to-wire intensity.

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

It certainly wasn’t Nadal’s last title. After lifting a champion’s trophy for the first time in 2004, Nadal the next year won 11 tournaments. Included in the tally was an extraordinary Roland Garros debut, Nadal taking the first of his 14 titles there. As of now, Nadal has won 92 tournaments, in the Open era only trailing Jimmy Connors, Federer, and Ivan Lendl.