Martin Vassallo Arguello is a former Argentine player who retired in 2011, cracking the top-50 in 2009 and reaching the last 16 at Roland Garros three years earlier. The winner of eight Challenger titles from 20 finals, Martin had the opportunity to battle against the future world no.
1 Rafael Nadal in Barletta in March 2003, with the 16-year-old Spaniard entering the ninth Challenger tournament of his young career. In the opening match, Rafa defeated Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo to set Vassallo Arguello clash, battling hard against the more experienced rival to notch a 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 triumph to reach the quarters, staying on the title course on his beloved surface and looking determined to finally win the first title at that level after losing already three finals at the beginning of the season.
Recalling the match, Martin Vassallo Arguello praised the Spaniard who was very tough to beat even at that point when he barely had serve, refusing to surrender and fighting for every point like it is the last one. "I asked for information when I found out that I would play against Rafa Nadal in the second round.
In the first, he defeated Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo who told me that Rafa is a promising junior who already hits the ball at a high pace. I won the first set that had lasted for an hour and was waiting for his game to drop in set number two.
Rafa was still very small and skinny, without a big serve. However, it was challenging to earn a point against him, running from one part of the court to another and getting everything back. At 5-5 in set number two, I was 40-15 up but couldn't close the game.
Rafa grabbed a break and closed the set to gain the momentum, taking the third set 6-3 and staying on the course towards his first Challenger title. He surprised me and that was a key for his victory. After the match, I called my coach Guillermo Perez Roldan and informed him about the result.
He told me that if I played well as I said and still lost, we are talking about a boy who is going to write tennis history."