Rafael Nadal claimed his first ATP win at home, in Mallorca, as a 15-year-old in 2002. The young standout finished the season just outside the top-200 and was left wanting more in 2003. The young Spaniard, who barely played junior tournaments, showed his true colors in the first months of 2003.
Rafa reached four Challenger finals and won the title in Barletta to move within a couple of wins of breaking into the top-100. A few weeks later, Rafa qualified for the Monte Carlo main draw, entering his first Masters 1000 still aged 16 and gaining confidence.
Nadal edged out Karol Kucera in the first round and faced defending Roland Garros champion Albert Costa. Showing no fear, the teenager dispatched his higher-ranked and more experienced countrywoman 7-5 6-3 in two hours, breaking into the top-100 and scoring his first top-10 win.
Nadal rejected 14 of 17 break chances and displayed enormous mental toughness. He fought for every point and emerged on top after a grueling battle and five breaks on his account. Rafa won the first set with a late break in the 12th game, when Costa made a forehand error.
The young tennis player took a 4-3 lead in the second set and sealed the deal with a hold in the next game for the first notable victory. Nadal felt great about the win and a place in the top-100, although he didn't think he could go far that week.
"It was another excellent game for me. At first, he was a bit lackluster, showing too much respect and being afraid of the rival on the other side of the net. Later, I increased my game because Albert didn't play at his usual level; I did my best to get the victory."
Uncle Toni opens up on Nadal
During an interview with the Madrid media AS, Toni Nadal brushed off several current topics related to Rafael Nadal. When the journalist asked him if the presence of Carlos Alcaraz took the pressure off his nephew, the Spanish coach did not hesitate before answering.
“I don't think Rafael thinks about that at all. Rafael plays for himself, he doesn't play wondering if Carlos Alcaraz, David Ferrer or even Djokovic are there. My nephew plays accepting the presence of one or the other knowing that he is a difficult opponent,” said Toni, the day after a historic day for Spanish sport with the presence of Alcaraz and Nadal. to the first two places in the world in the ATP rankings.