After failing to make progress through the ATP ranking list in 2004, Rafael Nadal was the player on a mission in the following season's opening months. Leaving injuries behind, Nadal was eager to show his best tennis and challenge the rivals from the top, still at 18.
The young Spaniard advanced to the second week in Melbourne, losing to Lleyton Hewitt in five sets. Rafa made a long trip to the other part of the world and conquered titles in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco, earning enough points to find himself on the verge of the top-30 ahead of Miami.
In Florida, Nadal became the second-youngest Masters 1000 finalist, wasting a massive advantage against Roger Federer and losing in five sets despite being two points away from beating world no. 1 in straight sets for the second consecutive year.
Rafael Nadal made the Monte Carlo debut in 2003 at 16, winning two matches.
Hoping for more of the same in Monte Carlo, Rafa ousted Gael Monfils in the first match and played an even better one against the Belgian Xavier Malisse in the second, clinching a 6-0, 6-3 triumph in an hour and two minutes to move into the last 16.
Dominating on both serve and return, Nadal lost nine points in his games and grabbed four breaks from as many chances to make the strongest start and seal the deal in no time. After the match, Rafa spoke about his first appearance in the Principality at 16 in 2003, qualifying for the main draw and beating Karol Kucera and the Roland Garros reigning champion Albert Costa in straight sets.
That gave Rafael Nadal a lot of confidence and proved he could compete at the highest level despite a young age and lack of experience. "I have great memories from Monte Carlo. It was my first notable tournament, and I played well, qualifying for the main draw and beating Karol Kucera and Albert Costa.
I will never forget that, but I have to improve now and move further from that third round. Before Monte Carlo 2003, I played in two Challenger finals, winning the title in Barletta and heading to Monte Carlo with a lot of confidence. I won two matches there and proved that I could compete against the rivals from the ATP Tour," Rafael Nadal said.