He's experienced close calls throughout each of his 12 Roland Garros title runs. But every time, Rafael Nadal has ultimately shown a killer instinct. Today, we look back at the Spaniard's first trip to the French capital.
2005 French Open
May 23: a poised prodigy takes No. 1 Court for the first—and last—time at Roland Garros, in his debut against Lars Burgsmuller. A sleeveless shirt and pirate pants characterize Rafael Nadal’s teenage style, but the Spaniard commands a strategic, powerful presence well beyond his years. Nadal would dismiss Burgsmuller in straight sets, and in turn, usher in a new era of clay-court tennis. On his 19th birthday, Nadal upstaged Roger Federer in the semifinals before claiming his first Grand Slam title over Mariano Puerta, completing a stellar spring that included titles in Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona to go with a 24-match clay-court win streak.
Most Impressive win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
They had met before, trading victories in Miami (2004-05), but the magnitude of this moment was far greater, with both seeking to reach their first French Open final. Top-ranked Federer opened a 3-1 lead in the fourth set before Nadal ran off the final five games to win the first of many Grand Slam meetings to come.
Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Puerta, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5
Playing for his first Slam title, Nadal was already in unfamiliar territory: fellow left-hander Puerta won a tiebreaker to put Nadal in a one-set deficit for the first time. Nadal saved three set points with Puerta serving at 5-4 in the fourth set, and relied on his incredible instincts and endless energy to become the first teen since Pete Sampras (1990 US Open) to lift a major singles trophy.