Kicking off the season from just outside the top-200, the world’s most promising youngster Rafael Nadal made stellar progress in 2003, reaching multiple Challenger finals and showing his skills against much better-ranked and experienced rivals on the ATP Tour. The young Spaniard played in the third round in Monte Carlo, Hamburg and Wimbledon, and advanced into the semi-final in Umag in July on his beloved clay. Switching to hard courts, Rafa gathered momentum ahead of the US Open, where he came after skipping three weeks due to an injury. In New York, Rafa became one of the youngest players with the US Open victory, reaching the second round where he lost to Younes El Aynaoui 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 after grueling two hours and 43 minutes. The youngster fended off nine out of 12 break chances, stole the rival’s serve twice and fell short in the decisive moments to suffer straight-sets defeat despite a great effort. Giving his best to stay in touch, Nadal came from a break down in sets one and three, reaching 6-6 in both tie breaks before losing the following two points to propel the Moroccan into the last 32.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his fighting spirit after a tight US Open 2003 loss.
“I was serving pretty well and was also unlucky on a few balls when I had the chance to change momentum. I returned pretty well, but his serve proved to be too tough in the end. It’s crucial to have good serve on these fast courts, and that made the difference today. The previous encounter we played was similar to this one, even though it was on clay. I played a bit better than the last time we played, but it wasn’t enough today. I’m a fighter; I fight all the time, even at 5-2 down in the third set. I bounced back and leveled the score to reach a tie break where I had my chances, missing that shot at 6-6 and losing in straights, although I gave my best to prolong the encounter. I wanted to play to his forehand at 6-6 in the third set tie break, which was more difficult. I should have played to his backhand like I had been doing on other points; still, it didn’t make that much of a difference,” Rafael Nadal said.