With his coevals preparing themselves for the upcoming junior season, the 16-year-old Rafael Nadal had some more challenging things to do at the beginning of 2003, reaching the final in Hamburg Challenger to crack the top-200 and continue his incredible journey towards the very top of men's tennis.
This extraordinary youngster scored 19 Challenger wins in the first three months of the season to find himself inside the top-150 before scoring five ATP wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg to prove his quality on the big scene.
Rafa was forced to miss the Roland Garros due to an elbow injury, recovering and hoping for the best on Wimbledon debut, just after turning 17. Battling on the professional circuit since 2001, Nadal had played only two junior tournaments in his career and one of those came at Wimbledon 2002 when he reached the semi-final, losing to Lamine Ouahab in straight sets.
The Spaniard was ready to make his professional debut on grass 12 months later, playing the first match on sacred courts at the All England Club on June 23 against Mario Ancic, defeating the Croat 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in three hours and four minutes.
Thus, Rafa had become the third-youngest player who scored a win at Wimbledon in the Open era after Boris Becker and Mats Wilander, showing his quality on the surface he barely had a chance to see before! Nadal had just two aces in the entire match but knew what he had to do against the player who toppled Roger Federer a year earlier, serving at 75% and winning 42% of the return points to break Mario five times from 16 opportunities.
The Croat created 14 break chances, converting just three which wasn't enough for the better result, sending the Spaniard into the second round. There, Rafa was lucky to draw the anonymous Briton Lee Childs, notching a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 win in just over two hours to become the youngest player in Wimbledon third round since Boris Becker in 1985!
Nadal was the dominant figure on the return again, taking 44% of the points in Childs' games and facing only four break points, getting broken twice and earning four more on the other side to find himself in the last 32.
World no. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan proved to be too strong there, ending Nadal's dream run with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 triumph in under two hours, losing serve twice and breaking Rafa six times from 15 opportunities to reach the second week.
Despite the loss, this was an excellent week for the Spanish youngster who would ride on that wave until the end of the season, finishing inside the top-50 and gaining boost for an even better 2004.