16-year-old rising star Rafael Nadal was ready to rumble in 2003 after rising numerous places in the ATP rankings the previous year. Rafa passed more than 500 rivals on the ATP list at such a young age and wanted more in the new season in 2003.
The Manacor native lost three finals at the start of the year before claiming the first Challenger crown the last week of March in Barletta, nearly breaking the top 100 with those points.
A few weeks later, the whole world of tennis could witness the talent and desire of the young Spaniard in Monte Carlo. Nadal qualified for his first beloved clay-court Masters 1000 tournament and took part in the second ATP event of his career after Manacor last spring.
Making an impressive debut at the premium ATP level, Rafa dispatched the world number one. 49 Karol Kucera with the score 6-1, 6-2 in a quick 63 minutes.
Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros:
Rafael Nadal was ready to challenge the Roland Garros champion in 2003.
The 16-year-old gave up 12 points in eight service games and defended all three break chances to keep the pressure on the Slovak. Dominating every segment and having the upper hand from start to finish, Rafa claimed 56% of the return points and offered four breaks from six opportunities to run for the second ATP victory.
In the second round, Nadal would face reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa in hopes of giving his best against a much higher ranked opponent he had met in Barcelona a few years earlier.
“I have known Carlos Moya for a long time, we know each other quite well. I don’t know Albert Costa very well because I don’t go to Barcelona often. However, I went there once with Moya, and I was lucky to meet him.
Nothing is easy, and I’m not thinking of senior positions; there are a lot of good players. I always try with school, although it becomes more and more difficult since I am never at home.
I can’t wait to meet Albert Costa because he won Roland Garros; this should be a good test for me. I will probably lose, but I am ready to give my best.
I never asked for an autograph, but if I have to choose the favorite player, it’s Carlos Moya. I’m very grateful to him for saying such nice things about me, but I think other players play just as well at my age,” Rafael Nadal said.