Rafael Nadal was the youngster to watch in 2003, moving from outside the top-200 into the top-50 within seven months and showing his rich talent and desire. Reaching four Challenger finals by the end of March and winning the first title in Barletta, the 16-year-old grabbed five ATP wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg before skipping Roland Garros and pre-Wimbledon tournaments due to an injury.
At the All England Club, Rafa played the first event after turning 17 and advanced into the third round as one of the youngest players ever on his Major debut. Returning to his beloved clay, Nadal was the semi-finalist in Umag and the champion in Segovia Challenger.
After another break due to an injury, Nadal won a match at the US Open and shut down engines in the rest of the year, scoring only two triumphs after Segovia but still finishing the season in the top-50. At Madrid Masters, Rafa lost in the first round to a compatriot Alex Corretja who had a terrible season, dropping out from the top-100 for the first time in 11 years but still doing enough to topple the youngster 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes.
The more experienced Spaniard won four points more than a teenager, delivered six breaks and left the second set behind to prevail in the decider and reach the second round. Nadal was not pleased with his recent results, saying he needs to be more aggressive and take charge in the rallies.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his game after a couple of losses at the end of 2003.
"I have not played well. Even though I have been training hard during the last weeks, something was missing in the matches. I do not know if it's physical or mental, but I'm not playing as well as I used to.
That happens; what we have to do is to keep working hard. Last week, my game was too defensive against Hrbarty in Lyon; I have changed that here in Madrid and played more aggressively. That's one of the key elements I have to improve.
Indeed, I'm not as aggressive as I was at the beginning of the season, and I do not know why. Maybe it's just a bad period, or I'm not confident enough. I have to work and continue as quickly as possible. My serve was not that bad today, and I was pleased with how it worked on the practice court; I usually do not try aggressive serves outside matches.
The initial shot will get better with years; the main problem is the missing element of aggression in my game," Rafael Nadal said.