The 16-year-old Rafael Nadal needed only three months to make a name for himself at the beginning of 2003, entering the season from just outside the top-200 and reaching no less than four Challenger finals by the end of March. The Spaniard lost the first three before claiming the first title at that level in Barletta and gathering momentum ahead of Monte Carlo. The youngster qualified for the main draw, making his Masters 1000 debut and stunning the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa! Rafa also scored two victories in Hamburg in May and reached the Aix En Provence Challenger final before suffering an injury that forced him to skip Roland Garros and pre-Wimbledon events on grass.
Returning stronger at the All England Club, the Manacor native made an impressive Major debut and reached the third round as one of the youngest players ever. Returning to his beloved clay, Rafa advanced into the quarter-final in Bastad and the semi-final in Umag in July before winning another Challenger crown at home in Segovia.
Rafael Nadal explained his connection with Carlos Moya at the US Open 2003.
The youngster had to skip the next three weeks before making the US Open debut as the top-50 player, beating the compatriot Fernando Vicente 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round for the first victory in New York. Rafa lost 22 points in 14 service games, fended off all three break chances and created no less than 18 break opportunities, converting four to control the pace and move into the second round. After the match, Rafa praised his future coach Carlos Moya, saying he is always there for him.
“Younes El Aynaoui plays better than me on hard courts. I beat him in Bastad on clay, but he is a very dangerous rival, with big serve and forehand. He has been playing his best tennis in the last couple of years. My goal here is to play match by match, especially after not competing for three weeks. I also want to improve my serve and volley in the upcoming months. Working with a better-ranked player helps, and Carlos Moya was always there to help me; we come from a small place, and we are very close. In terms of fans and autographs, it is the same here as at any other tournament. I gave some autographs but not that many,” Rafael Nadal said.