With Barcelona player Miguel Angel Nadal as one uncle and tennis lover Toni Nadal as the other, Rafael Nadal had the opportunity to embrace both sports and show his skills on the green and red court. At the age of 12, the Manacor native decided to pick tennis as his primary sport, working with Toni and becoming one of the greatest players of all time in the next two decades. Skipping almost the entire junior career and focusing on professional events, Nadal kicked off the 2003 season from just outside the top-200. The 16-year-old reached three Challenger finals in the first three months before winning the first title in Barletta.
With momentum on his side, the youngster headed to Monte Carlo, where he ousted the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa en route to the third round, repeating the same in Hamburg in May. Struggling with an elbow injury, the youngster had to miss Roland Garros and pre-Wimbledon events on grass, returning at the All England Club for his first Major appearance just after turning 17. Rafa beat another promising youngster Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 after grueling three hours and four minutes in his first Major match.
At Wimbledon 2003, Rafael Nadal explained how he picked tennis over football.
Thus, the Spaniard became the third-youngest player with a victory in the cathedral of tennis after Boris Becker and Mats Wilander! Both players had their chances on the return, and it was and Nadal who fended off 11 out of 14 to limit the damage in his games, delivering five breaks and moving over the top for a milestone triumph over the player who defeated Roger Federer in the first round a year earlier. Asked about his uncles, Rafa explained that Miguel Angel played for Barcelona in the 90s and that the entire family cheered for them during that decade. Still, Nadal admitted they are the Real Madrid supporters, going back to their favorite club once Miguel Angel left Barcelona in 1999 and returned to the local club of Mallorca.
“I picked tennis over football at the age of 12 because I played it better. When my uncle played for Barcelona, the family was cheering for them. Before that, we were all supporting Real Madrid. Once my uncle left Barcelona, we were Real Madrid fans all over again,” Rafael Nadal said.