Rafael Nadal needed only half a year to move from just outside the top-200 into the Wimbledon third round in 2003, at 16 and 17! In the opening months, the young gun made a breakthrough run in Challengers and claimed the first title from his fourth final in Barletta.
Hungry for more, Nadal qualified for his first Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo and stunned the defending Roland Garros champion Albert Costa en route to the third round before repeating that in Hamburg in May. An elbow injury prevented Rafa from making his Roland Garros debut in June, skipping pre-Wimbledon events as well before entering his first Major at the All England Club, just after the 17th birthday.
In the first round, Rafa defeated Mario Ancic in four sets to become one of the youngest players with a victory at Wimbledon in the Open era and made the story even better following a win over Lee Childs that propelled him into the third round.
World no. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan proved too strong for the youngster, ousting Rafa 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in just under two hours. Nadal grabbed two breaks but lost serve six times, building a 4-2 lead in set number two before losing ten of the final 12 games to propel the rival into the last 16, still ending his first Wimbledon campaign with positive vibes.
Rafael Nadal reached the third round on his Wimbledon debut in 2003.
"It was a pleasant experience to compete in the main draw at Wimbledon. It's a new surface for me, making you realize you have to work on shots that are not that important on clay, like serve.
Also, I played three matches on a high level, which will help me a lot in future development. I did not start well today, getting broken in the first game; that's never a good sign on the fastest surface. I had to chase the result and was two breaks down in the closing stages of the opener before pulling one back.
I also had a chance to level the score at 5-5, but I did not. In set number two, I was 4-2, 30-0 up before starting to hit double faults and missing shots in the crucial moments. Overall, it has been a good tournament; I won two matches on grass, the surface I had not played at for a year, losing to world no.
11. The young players are eager to learn how to compete on the fast surface. Guys like David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo are already good on grass. They can reach the latter rounds here in the future," Rafael Nadal said.