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Rafael Nadal and Bartolome Salva-Vidal played six tour-level doubles tournaments together.

‘Geniuses Never Fail To Surprise’: Tomeu Salva Remembers Nadal’s First Win

Both played their first ATP Tour event in April 2002

Rafael Nadal has now earned 1,048 tour-level wins, the fourth-best haul in the Open Era. But while his quest to grow his legacy and surpass the 1,068 victories of third-placed Ivan Lendl continues, we take a look back at how it all began. Today is the 20th anniversary of Nadal’s first match win on Tour.

It was 29 April 2002 on a clay court in Mallorca. Bartolome Salva-Vidal, better-known as Tomeu Salva, remembers it like it was yesterday, because he was Nadal’s doubles partner at the event and witnessed his friend’s win over Paraguayan Ramon Delgado, then No. 81 in the ATP Rankings.

“When I saw him playing on court, I thought ‘Rafa is superior’. And I wasn’t surprised to see him win,” Salva said in a conversation with ATPTour.com.

Despite losing his own singles match on the adjoining court, Tomeu was as happy to see his friend’s score as if it were his own. “I was delighted. And even though Rafa was my age and had never played these kinds of opponents because at the time his calendar was completely different, he was really superior in that match,” added Salva, who reached No. 288 in the world before becoming a coach.

Both Salva and Nadal received wild cards to play in the singles and doubles at that event. It was the first time for both of them playing tennis at that level, and they enjoyed it together from start to finish.

“Our memory of it is being so excited when they told us the news that we could play in an ATP tournament, and at home, on the island of Mallorca,” Salva said. “But as the competition drew closer, that excitement turned into pressure.”

That tension was evident when Nadal, then World No. 762, started losing his match against Delgado 0-2. The comeback and victory was generally met with astonishment. A local boy had just become the second-youngest player to win an ATP Tour match in the Open Era (after Richard Gasquet at Monte Carlo in 2002). Why was Salva one of the few people who were not surprised? Not just because of the superiority he saw in Nadal on court, but also because he had known him since they were seven years old, when Nadal beat him 6-0, 6-0 in the second round of a junior tournament in Mallorca.

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After that, the pair grew up together. They were friends, occasional doubles partners and even played like one another. In fact, they are both left-handed and there are just five months between them. At the time, Salva knew of Nadal’s potential, which is why seeing him win the first main-draw match he played on the ATP Tour only confirmed that his own predictions for Nadal’s future were true.

“At the end of the day, Rafa is a genius, and geniuses never fail to surprise,” Salva said.

That Monday at the Nova Sport Club, the same day on which the national press announced that Sergi Bruguera was retiring, Spanish tennis had a new hope. The generational changing of the guard seemed to be complete with Nadal’s 6-4, 6-4 win over Delgado in one hour and 23 minutes, during which he converted five of the seven break points he earned.

“The difference between Rafa and the rest at that time was already clear,” said Salva, who is currently a coach at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar and a mentor of Jaume Munar and Casper Ruud. “In terms of tennis, he was already ahead of the rest of the players. The most striking difference was his mentality. He was already so competitive, a winner, so mature on court. He had very clear ideas at such a young age, when it’s so difficult to be clear about your future. Physique was also a difference. But mostly it was the mental side.”

Then came defeat in the second round to World No. 70 Olivier Rochus, and also in the first round of the doubles with Salva (l. to Adams/Aspelin). But the seeds were already sown. “I think we competed very well. The experience gave us a taste of the Tour, and we actually felt very comfortable playing in that tournament,” Salva said.

Twenty years have passed since their first tournament on the ATP Tour. Many things have changed since then. The courts where the event was held now form part of the Vilas Tennis Academy.

Ramon Delgado has been a business administrator for some time and Tomeu Salvà is one of the most renowned coaches on Tour. One thing that hasn’t changed is Rafael Nadal’s ambition; at 35 years of age and having spent 20 of them on the ATP Tour, he continues to aspire to earn the biggest titles in our sport.

Did You Know?
Rafael Nadal and Tomeu Salva reached two doubles finals together: in Chennai (l. to Malisse/Norman) and Barcelona (l. to Pavel/Waske) in the 2007 season.

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