Rafael Nadal scored his first ATP win at home in Mallorca at 15 in 2002. The outstanding youngster finished the season right outside the top-200 and felt hungry for more in 2003. The young Spaniard, who barely played junior tournaments, showed his true colors in the opening months of 2003.
Rafa reached four Challenger finals and conquered 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. He fought for every point and emerged 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.
The young gun moved in front at 4-3 in set number two and sealed the deal with a hold at love in the next game for the first notable victory. Nadal felt great about the win and a place in the top-100, although he did not believe he could go far that week.
Rafael Nadal scored his first top-10 victory over Albert Costa in Monte Carlo 2003.
"It was another excellent match for me. Initially, it was a bit average, showing too much respect and being afraid of the rival on the other side of the net.
Later, I increased my game because Albert did not play at his usual level; I gave my best to claim the victory. I was eager to play, while maybe he was slightly scared after facing a younger opponent. I was not very confident about winning the match, but it all came out nicely.
It's a significant victory for me over the top-10 rival and reigning Roland Garros champion. 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.
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.