The 16-year-old Rafael Nadal needed only three months to make a name for himself at the beginning of 2003, entering the season from just outside the top-200 and reaching no less than four Challenger finals by the end of March.
The Spaniard lost the first three before claiming the first title in Barletta, gathering momentum ahead of Monte Carlo where he qualified for the main draw to defeat the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa. Rafa was also in the last 16 in Hamburg and the finalist of Aix En Provence Challenger, suffering an injury that forced him to skip Roland Garros and pre-Wimbledon events on grass.
At the All England Club, the Manacor native reached the third round as one of the youngest players ever, advancing into the quarter-final in Bastad and the semi-final in Umag on clay in July before winning another Challenger crown in Segovia.
The youngster had to skip the next three weeks before making a debut at the US Open as the top-50 player, beating the compatriot Fernando Vicente 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round for the first victory at the last Major of the season.
Rafa lost 22 points in 14 service games, fending off all three break chances and creating no less than 18 break points on the return, converting four to control the pace and move into the second round. "Younes El Aynaoui plays better than me on hard courts.
I beat him in Bastad on clay but he is a very dangerous rival, with big serve and forehand, also playing his best tennis in the last couple of years. My goal here is to play match by match, especially after not playing for three weeks; also, I want to improve my serve and volley in the upcoming months.
Working with a better-ranked player helps and Carlos Moya was always there to help me; we come from a small place and we are very close. In terms of fans and autographs, it is the same here as at any other tournament. I gave some autographs but not that many."