Rafael Nadal scored his first ATP win at home in Mallorca at 15 in 2002, finishing the season right outside the top-200 and setting eyes on significant results in 2003. The young Spaniard, who barely played junior tournaments, showed his true colors in the opening months of 2003, reaching four Challenger finals and winning the title in Barletta to move a couple of wins away from a place in the top-100. A few weeks later, Rafa qualified for the main draw in Monte Carlo, entering his first Masters 1000 event and building confidence ahead of challenging encounters.
In the first round, Nadal stormed over Karol Kucera to set the clash against the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa. Showing no sign of fear, a teenager ousted the better-ranked and more experienced compatriot 7-5, 6-3 after two hours, entering the top-100 and notching his first top-10 triumph at such a young age! Nadal fended off 14 out of 17 break chances to show a massive mental strength, fighting for every point and emerging at the top after a grueling battle and five breaks on his tally. Rafa won the first set with a late break in the 12th game when Costa sprayed a forehand error, moved in front at 4-3 in set number two and sealed the deal with a hold at love in the next game for one of his most notable victories before 2005.
Rafael Nadal scored first top-10 victory over Albert Costa in Monte Carlo 2003 at 16.
“It was another excellent match for me. It was a bit average initially, as I showed too much respect and was afraid of the rival on the other side of the net. Later, I started to increase my level, using the fact that Albert didn’t play on his usual level and giving my best to claim the victory. I was very eager to play, while maybe he was scared a bit after facing a younger opponent. I wasn’t very confident that I would win, but it all came out nicely. It’s a significant victory for me over the top-10 rival and reigning Roland Garros champion, and I’m happy with the level of tennis I delivered. I feel good physically, and I think I can keep this pace tomorrow as well. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think I would reach the top-100 this quickly. The thing is, you have to continue to try and keep working. Realistically speaking, I don’t think I’m going far this week; I will try to keep this level, but it will not be easy, as things don’t depend only on me,” Rafael Nadal said.