In Rafael Nadal's words: 'I have never asked for an autograph, my favorite player..'

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In Rafael Nadal's words: 'I have never asked for an autograph, my favorite player..'

The 16-year-old star in the making Rafael Nadal was ready to rumble in 2003 after gaining a lot of places on the ATP list in the previous year, passing more than 500 rivals and hoping for more of the same in the new campaign.

The Manacor native lost three finals at the beginning of the year before winning the first Challenger crown in the last week of March in Barletta, almost cracking the top-100. A couple of weeks later, the entire tennis world could witness the talent and desire of the young Spaniard in Monte Carlo, with Nadal qualifying for his first Masters 1000 tournament on beloved clay and entering the second ATP event in career after Manacor last spring.

Making an impressive debut on the premium level of the ATP events, Rafa dispatched world no. 49 Karol Kucera 6-1, 6-2 in swift 63 minutes, giving away 12 points in eight service games and defending all three break chances to keep the pressure on Karol all the time.

Dominating in every segment and having the upper hand all the time, Rafa claimed 56% of the return points, delivering four breaks from six opportunities and racing towards the second ATP win. In the second round, Nadal would face the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa, hoping to give his best against much better-ranked opponent and accomplished compatriot whom he met in Barcelona a couple of years earlier.

"I have been knowing Carlos Moya for a long time, we know each other pretty well. I don't know Albert Costa that well since I don't go very often to Barcelona. Still, I went there once with Moya and I had a chance to meet him.

Nothing comes easy and I don't think about higher ranking positions; there are many good players out there. I'm still trying with school, although it is getting harder and harder since I'm never at home. I'm very eager to meet Albert Costa as he won the French Open; it should be a great test for me.

I will probably lose but I'm ready to give my best. I have never asked for an autograph but if I have to pick the favorite player that's Carlos Moya. I'm very grateful to him for saying such nice things about me but I think other players play well at my age as well, I don't know."