Rafael Nadal qualified for his first Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo 2003, still at 16. The young Spaniard played on a high level at Challengers in the opening three months of the season, and he was ready to test his skills on the ATP level on his beloved clay.
Nadal toppled Karol Kucera in the opening round for his first Masters 1000 win and gained a boost ahead of a more challenging clash. In round two, the youngster took down the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa 7-5, 6-3 in two hours, earning the first top-10 triumph and getting the attention of the entire tennis world.
The less experienced Spaniard fended off 14 out of 17 break chances and fought for every point to emerge at the top after a grueling battle, earning five breaks to book a place in the last 16 and cement his top-100 status.
Rafa won the first set with a late break in the 12th game when Costa sprayed a forehand error, moved in front at 4-3 in set number two and sealed the deal with a hold at love in the next game for one of his most notable wins before 2005.
Rafael Nadal defeated the Roland Garros champion Albert Costa when we was 16.
"It was another excellent match for me. In the beginning, it was a bit average, as I showed too much respect and was afraid of the rival on the other side of the net.
Later, I started playing better and better because he did not play on his usual level. I gave my best to claim the victory. I was very eager to compete, while he was scared a bit after facing a younger opponent. To tell the truth, I was not very confident that I would win, but it all came out nicely.
It's a significant victory for me over the top-10 rival and reigning Roland Garros champion, and I'm happy with the level of tennis I produced. I feel good physically, and I think I can keep this pace tomorrow as well. At the beginning of the season, I did not think I would reach the top-100 this quickly.
The thing is, you have to continue trying and keep working. Realistically speaking, I do not think I'm going far in this tournament. I will try to keep this level, but that will not be easy, as things do not depend only on me," Rafael Nadal said.