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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Nadal proves to be the real deal
Rafael Nadal
It may have been a defeat, but Rafael Nadal's epic five-set battle with Roger Federer was still a major breakthrough.

Pushing the seemingly untouchable world number one to the brink of defeat in a Masters Series final brought Nadal to the attention of the wider world.

He heads back to Europe for the clay-court season as a serious contender for next month's French Open.

But the 18-year-old has been talked up by his fellow Spaniards for several years, and tipped as a future number one by many in recent months.

"Every once in a while people come along who are big match players," said Andy Roddick after losing to the teenager in November's Davis Cup final.

"He is a big match player."

Nadal was a key part of Spain's Davis Cup triumph and has already won titles in Brazil and Mexico this season.

Praise for his game is hardly in short supply and Federer was happy to outline the challenge he poses after struggling to victory in Miami.

He's an outstanding athlete
Federer on Nadal
"Because he's a lefty, it changes so many things," said Federer.

"His forehand is huge. Even on the run he can hit it with the spins. He can hit winners off every forehand.

"He hits his backhand very close to his body but still gets it back well and hard when he's under pressure. And he's a good defensive player as well.

"He moves totally different from most players. He's an outstanding athlete."

Nadal's physical conditioning is something that has not gone unnoticed among his rivals.

Andre Agassi is among the fittest players on the Tour, but even he has been taken aback by the sheer power Nadal can generate.

Born: 3/6/86
Birthplace: Mallorca
Height: 6' 0"
Current ranking: 17
2005 record: 22/5
Career titles: 3
Prize money: $1.3m
"You see the evolution of athletes getting bigger, stronger, more powerful, faster and explosive and hitting the ball harder," said the Amercian.

"Me at 18, looking at Nadal at 18, from the neck down you would think one person was 26 and the other was 12."

While Spain has an enviable record of producing world-class players in recent years, the likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya have struggled to land the big titles away from their favoured clay courts.

All three titles Nadal has won (including in Sopot, Poland, last year) were on clay but Miami proved that he will be a real threat on hard courts.

He admits, however, that there are still areas to work on.

"If I can improve my serve and get points off my serve, that's one of the things I need to improve," he said in Miami, adding that the backhand slice also needs attention.

But if he carries on at his current rate of progress the most formidable obstacles Nadal will face are press conferences, where his limited English is tested to the full.

"I'm going to work on my English," he promised after his defeat to Federer. "For next year."


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