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The evolution of tennis often brings with it a barrier that makes it difficult for the young players to break into the ATP elite. The ability of the veterans to extend their careers ever longer is the greatest handicap encountered by young hopefuls when it comes to finding their way on tour. However, there is always space for a star to shine brightly in the darkness. And that was the case of Rafa Nadal, who managed to open his account of professional victories at just 15 years of age, still making him the youngest player to win his first ATP match.

 

It happened on 29 April 2002. Nadal was just 15 years and 330 days old and occupying No. 762 in the world, when he received an invitation to the ATP tournament in Mallorca. The draw presented him with a first-round match against Paraguayan player Ramón Delgado, ranked at No. 81 in the world. In one hour and 23 minutes, the Manacor native took the spoils from his first ATP Tour experience with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. It would be the first of the 990 victories under his belt today.

 

“I’m still waiting for my share of your winnings, because everything started with me and I gave you the confidence to join the tour”, Delgado joked years later on social media as he faced the Spaniard again at Roland Garros, when he had already conquered the Philippe Chatrier. “I’m not at all ashamed about it now. Now, I even use it to my advantage. I don’t know if pride is the word, but at least... I don’t know! I made an impact on his excellent career”, he recognises now, so long after that encounter.

 

On that day, Nadal wrote the first chapter of his brilliant story. And this season, Carlos Alcaraz dusted off the feat of precocity by snapping at the Balearic Islander’s heals. Last February in Rio de Janeiro he claimed his first ATP victory at 16 years of age by beating Albert Ramos Viñolas. He was the youngest Spaniard to do so since that April in 2002, making space for himself on a podium that also includes Tommy Robredo. The Catalan sealed his first victory at 16 in Barcelona in 1999, beating the Italian Davide Sanguinetti.

 

There are others though, besides this trio, that can lay claim to being a young gun. Three names appear on the list of active Spaniards to have won their first ATP match at 18. The first of them is a player from the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar; Jaume Munar. Two months after reaching adulthood, and still at No. 683 in the world, he received an invitation to play in the ATP 500 tournament in Hamburg and managed to open his win account there against the then world No. 28 Guillermo García López.

 

Fernando Verdasco found his first victory in Sopot in 2002 at 18 years and 8 months of age. The Madrid native won his first round match at the Polish tournament against Mariano Puerta in three sets. While an also recently-18 Nicola Kuhn managed to add his name to this select list. He made the most of an invitation to the ATP Masters 1000 in Miami, where he saw off Darian King to seal the first of two victories to his name today.

 

Of the remaining active Spaniards: Feliciano López and Alejandro Davidovich won their first match at 19 years of age; Guillermo García López, Daniel Gimeno Traver and Carlos Taberner at 20; Marcel Granollers, Roberto Carballés and Bernabé Zapata, at 21; Pablo Carreño, Albert Ramos and Pedro Martínez, at 22; Roberto Bautista, at 23; Ricardo Ojeda, at 24; Oriol Roca, at 25; and Adrián Menéndez, at 29.

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