Rafael Nadal scored his first ATP win at home in Mallorca at 15 in 2002, finishing the season right outside the top-200 and standing as one of the youngsters to beat ahead of 2003. The young Spaniard, who barely played junior tournaments, showed his true colors in the opening months of 2003, reaching four Challenger finals and winning the title in Barletta to move a couple of wins away from a place in the top-100.
A few weeks later, Rafa qualified for the main draw in Monte Carlo, entering his first Masters 1000 event still at 16 and building confidence. Nadal stormed over Karol Kucera in the first round to set the clash against the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa.
Showing no fear, a teenager ousted the better-ranked and more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-3 in two hours, entering the top-100 and notching his first top-10 triumph! Nadal fended off 14 out of 17 break chances while showing massive mental strength, fighting for every point and emerging at the top after a grueling battle and five breaks on his tally.
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 emerged at the top with a hold at love in the next game for the first notable victory.
Rafael Nadal scored first top-10 victory over Albert Costa in Monte Carlo 2003 at 16.
"It was another excellent match for me. It was a bit average initially, as I showed too much respect and was afraid of the rival on the other side of the net.
Later, I increased my level because Albert did not play on his usual level; I gave my best to claim the victory. I was very eager to play, while maybe he was scared a bit after facing a younger opponent. 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 delivered. 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 to try and keep working. Realistically speaking, I do not think I'm going far this week; I will try to keep this level, but it will not be easy, as things do not depend only on me," Rafael Nadal said.