The 16-year-old rising star Rafael Nadal was ready to rumble in 2003 after gaining many places on the ATP ranking list in the previous year, passing over 500 rivals and hoping for more of the same in the new campaign. The Manacor native lost three finals at the beginning of the year before winning the first Challenger crown in the last week of March in Barletta, almost cracking the top-100. A couple of weeks later, the entire tennis world could witness the young Spaniard’s talent and desire in Monte Carlo. Nadal qualified for his first Masters 1000 tournament on beloved clay and entered his career’s second ATP event after Manacor last spring.
Making an impressive debut on the premium ATP level, Rafa dispatched world no. 49 Karol Kucera 6-1, 6-2 in swift 63 minutes, giving away 12 points in eight service games and defending all three break chances to keep the pressure on the Slovak all the time. Dominating in every segment and having the upper hand from start to finish, Rafa claimed 56% of the return points and delivered four breaks from six opportunities to race towards the second ATP win.
In Monte Carlo 2003, Rafael Nadal said that he never asked for an autograph.
In the second round, Nadal would face the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa, hoping to give his best against a much better-ranked opponent and accomplished compatriot whom he met in Barcelona a couple of years earlier.
“I have been knowing Carlos Moya for a long time; we know each other pretty well. I don’t know Albert Costa that well since I don’t go to Barcelona very often. Still, I went there once with Moya, and I had a chance to meet him. Nothing comes easy, and I don’t think about higher ranking positions; there are many good players out there. I’m still trying with school, although it is getting harder and harder since I’m never home. I’m very eager to meet Albert Costa as he won the French Open; it should be a great test for me. I will probably lose, but I’m ready to give my best. I have never asked for an autograph, but if I have to pick the favorite player, that’s Carlos Moya. I’m very grateful to him for saying such nice things about me, but I think other players play well at my age as well, I don’t know,” Rafael Nadal said.