At the beginning of 2003, the 16-year-old Rafael Nadal was ranked a few spots outside the top-200, setting eyes on much higher positions and big goals in the next 12 months. The Spaniard was one of the players to beat on the Challenger level in the first three months, losing the first three finals before lifting the trophy in Barletta to find himself on the verge of the top-100.
Rafa was certainly material for that group even before turning 17, reaching the third round in Monte Carlo and Hamburg and playing in another Challenger final before suffering an injury that forced him to skip Roland Garros and all the pre-Wimbledon events.
At the All England Club, Nadal became one of the youngest players in the third round, earning valuable wins on clay in the upcoming weeks in July and skipping all the action ahead of the US Open because of another injury.
In New York, Nadal defeated Fernando Vicente in the first round, losing in the next clash 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 to Younes El Aynaoui after challenging two hours and 43 minutes. The youngster fended off nine out of 12 break chances, stealing the rival's serve twice and falling short in the decisive moments to suffer straight-sets defeat.
Giving his best to stay in touch, Nadal came from a break down in sets one and three, reaching 6-6 in both tie breaks before losing the next two points to propel the Moroccan into the last 32 and finish his run in the second round.
After the match, Nadal admitted he would love to crack the top-10 or top-5 one day, aware of the fact there are many high-quality players out there but talking about his desire to find himself one day. As we all know, it came less than two years earlier when he became one of the greatest players in the world after Roger Federer, forging his legacy that still stands strong after 15 years and many stressful moments due to injuries.
"I had some good results this year but I try not to think too far ahead. If you play and practice well, the ranking positions will come. That's why I'm not thinking about the upcoming Majors or Masters 1000 events. I'm trying to improve all shots and add more power to them.
I have been working on my serve and slice backhand; I need to improve that to be even more competitive. In the future, I want to reach the top-10 or top-5 but many players play great at the moment. It will be tough for me but I have the desire to chase that goal."