It took 16-year-old Rafael Nadal just three months to make a name for himself in early 2003. The young Spaniard entered the season from outside the top-200 and reached four Challenger finals by the end of March. Rafa lost the first three title games before lifting the first trophy in Barletta, providing a boost ahead of Monte Carlo.
The youngster qualified for the main draw in the Principality, making his Masters 1000 debut and upsetting reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa in straight sets. In May, Rafa achieved two victories in the Hamburg Masters and reached the final of the Challenger in Aix En Provence.
An injury slowed the Spaniard’s progression, forcing him to skip Roland Garros and the pre-Wimbledon grass court events. Returning stronger to the All England Club, the Manacorí made an impressive Major debut and reached the third round as one of the youngest players ever.
Returning to his beloved clay in July, Rafa advanced to the quarterfinals in Bastad and the semifinals in Umag before winning another Challenger crown at home in Segovia. The youngster skipped the next three weeks before making his US Open debut as a top-50 player.
Nadal defeated compatriot Fernando Vicente 6-4 6-3 6-3 in the first round to earn his first victory in New York at the age of 17. Rafa dropped 22 points in 14 service games, rejecting all three break chances and creating 18 break chances.
The teenager converted four to control the pace and move on to the next round. Rafa praised his future coach, Carlos Moyá, after the match, saying that it meant a lot to him to practice with the top opponent. Nadal revealed that they both came from a small place in Mallorca, and that Carlos was always by his side.
Moyá became Nadal’s coach in 2017, and they have won many big titles together.
Henin opens up on Nadal
On the set of Eurosport, Justine Henin designated the coronation of Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open, following a legendary victory in the final against Daniil Medvedev (2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6–4, 7–5), as the most defining moment.
“The year has been dense but I would remember Nadal’s victory at the Australian Open. I had the chance to comment on this grand finale. It marked me because Rafa was coming back from very far, we didn’t know if he could play in Australia and then little by little, a magic worked.
His abnegation also marked me. He trailed by two sets and 0–40 on his serve in the third set. On the first point of the third set, we heard him shout ‘vamos!’ He was hanging on like it was 5-5 in the 5th set. I could never get tired of this attitude.
It was a real fight, a very emotional moment to see him win again in Melbourne. It was unexpected. We did not imagine Rafa taking us that way to Melbourne,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner.
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