While the other players of his generation were preparing themselves for the junior season, the 16-year-old Rafael Nadal had more serious business to do at the beginning of 2003. The upcoming youngster reached the final of Hamburg Challenger to crack the top-200 and continued his incredible journey towards the very top of men's tennis.
The extraordinary teenager scored 19 Challenger wins in the season's first three months to find himself inside the top-150 before earning five ATP wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg to introduce himself to the tennis world.
Rafa had to miss Roland Garros due to an elbow injury and was ready to play at his best again at Wimbledon, just after turning 17. Battling on the professional circuit since 2001, Nadal had played only two junior tournaments in his career, and one of those came at Wimbledon 2002 when he reached the semi-final, losing to Lamine Ouahab in straight sets.
Twelve months later, the Spaniard was ready to make his professional debut on grass, playing his first match at the sacred courts at the All England Club on June 23 against Mario Ancic. Rafa defeated the hard-hitting Croat 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in three hours and four minutes to become the third-youngest player in the Open era with a win at Wimbledon after Boris Becker and Mats Wilander!
Rafael Nadal reached the third round on his Wimbledon debut in 2003.
Rafa had just two aces, but he knew what he had to do against the player who toppled Roger Federer a year earlier, serving at 75% and winning 42% of the return points to break Mario five times from 16 opportunities.
The Croat created 14 break chances and converted only three, not enough for a more favorable result as he propelled the Spaniard into the second round. Rafa played against the anonymous Briton Lee Childs and notched a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 triumph in just over two hours to become the youngest player in the Wimbledon third round since Boris Becker in 1985!
Nadal was the dominant figure on the return again, taking 44% of the points in Childs' games and facing only four break points, losing serve twice and earning six breaks to find himself in the last 32. World no. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan proved to be too strong for the youngster, ending Nadal's dream run with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win in under two hours.
Srichaphan lost serve twice and broke Rafa six times from 15 opportunities to enter the last 16. It was a wonderful week for the Spanish youngster, and he would ride on that wave for the rest of the season, finishing inside the top-50 and setting eyes on even higher goals in 2004, still at 17.