Rafael Nadal was the youngster to watch in 2003, moving from outside the top-200 into the top-50 within seven months and showing his full potential. Reaching four Challenger finals by the end of March and winning the first title at that level in Barletta, the 16-year-old grabbed five ATP wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg before skipping Roland Garros and pre-Wimbledon tournaments due to an injury. At the All England Club, Rafa played the first event after turning 17 and advanced into the third round as one of the youngest players ever before returning to clay. He was the semi-finalist in Umag and the champion in Segovia Challenger, adding more points to his tally and rising. After another break due to an injury, Nadal won a match at the US Open and shut down engines in the rest of the year, scoring only two triumphs after Segovia but still finishing in the top-50. At Madrid Masters, Rafa lost in the first round to a compatriot Alex Corretja who had a terrible season, dropping out from the top-100 for the first time in 11 years but still doing enough to topple Rafa 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes. The more experienced Spaniard won four points more than a teenager, delivered six breaks and left the second set behind to prevail in the decider and reach the second round.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his game after a couple of losses at the end of 2003.
“I haven’t played well. Even though I’ve been training hard during the last weeks, something was missing in the matches. I don’t know if it’s physical or maybe mental, but I’m not playing as well as I used to. But that happens; what we have to do is to keep working hard. My game was too defensive last week against Hrbarty in Lyon; I’ve changed that here in Madrid and played more aggressively. That’s one of the key elements I have to improve. Indeed, I’m not as aggressive as I was at the beginning of the season, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just a bad period, or I’m not confident enough. I have to work and continue as quickly as possible. My serve wasn’t that bad today, and I was pleased with how it worked on the practice court; I usually don’t try aggressive serves outside matches. The initial shot will get better with years; the main problem is the missing element of aggression in my game. Corretja had a bad year, but he beat me today as I had no confidence when it mattered the most. I want to congratulate my rival,” Rafael Nadal said.