Rafael Nadal became the youngster to watch in 2003, playing in four Challenger finals in the opening months and making an impressive debut at the Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Hamburg, where he reached the third round.
Establishing himself as a top-100 player, Nadal scored two wins at Wimbledon and gathered a boost ahead of the second part of the season. The 17-year-old advanced into the semi-final on his beloved clay in Umag in July before skipping a couple of weeks due to an injury.
In New York, Nadal became one of the youngest players with the US Open victory, reaching the second round where he lost to Younes El Aynaoui 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 after grueling two hours and 43 minutes. The youngster fended off nine out of 12 break chances, stealing the rival's serve twice and falling short in the decisive moments to suffer straight-sets defeat despite a great effort.
Giving his best to stay in touch, Nadal came from a break down in sets one and three, reaching 6-6 in both tie breaks before losing the following two points to propel the Moroccan into the last 32.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his fighting spirit at the US Open 2003.
"I was serving pretty well and was unlucky on a few balls when I had a chance to bring momentum to my side.
I returned pretty well, but his serve proved to be too tough in the end. It's crucial to have good serve on these fast courts, and that made the difference today. The previous encounter we played was similar to this one, even though it was on clay.
I played a bit better than the last time we shared the court, but it was not enough today. I'm a fighter, and I fight all the time, even at 5-2 down in the third set. I bounced back and leveled the score to reach a tie break where I had my chances, missing that shot at 6-6 and losing in straights, although I gave my best to prolong the encounter.
I wanted to play to his forehand at 6-6 in the third set tie break, which was more difficult. I should have played to his backhand like I had been doing on other points; still, it did not make that much of a difference," Rafael Nadal said.