At 35, Rafael Nadal is still ranked inside the top-5, playing well since 2017 and standing on 20 Majors and 36 Masters 1000 crowns. Nadal scored his first ATP win 19 years ago, and he is still eager to improve his game and push his rivals to the limits in every tournament, winning two titles so far in 2021 and hoping for more in the rest of the season.
At the beginning of 2003, the 16-year-old Nadal was ranked a few spots outside the top-200, setting eyes on much higher positions and big goals that year. The Spaniard was one of the players to beat on the Challenger level in the first three months, losing the first three finals before lifting the trophy in Barletta to find himself on the verge of the top-100.
Rafa was the material for that group even before turning 17, reaching the third round in Monte Carlo on his Masters 1000 debut and repeating that in May in Hamburg. The young Spaniard advanced into another Challenger final before suffering an injury that forced him to skip Roland Garros and all the pre-Wimbledon events.
At the All England Club, Nadal became one of the youngest players to reach the third round in the Open era and gathered a boost ahead of the summer clay swing. Rafa earned worthy wins in the upcoming weeks in July and skipped the pre-US Open action due to another injury.
In New York, Nadal defeated a compatriot Fernando Vicente in the first round and suffered a 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 loss to Younes El Aynaoui in the next match after challenging two hours and 43 minutes. The youngster fended off nine out of 12 break chances, stole the rival's serve twice and fell short in the decisive moments to suffer straight-sets defeat on the US Open debut.
Rafael Nadal shared thoughts about his future goals at the US Open 2003.
After the match, Nadal admitted he would love to crack the top-10 or top-5 one day, aware there are many high-quality players out there but wishing to match that level in the future.
As we all know, it came less than two years later when he became one of the world's greatest players alongside Roger Federer, forging his legacy that still stands strong after two decades on the Tour and many stressful moments due to injuries.
"I had some good results this year, but I try not to think too far ahead. If you play and practice well, the ranking positions will come. That's why I'm not thinking about the upcoming Majors or Masters 1000 events.
I have been working on my serve and slice backhand; I need to improve that to be more competitive. In the future, I want to reach the top-10 or top-5, but many great players are still in front of me. It will be tough for me, but I have the desire to chase that goal," Rafael Nadal said.