Ever since his first professional match, Rafael Nadal was among the youngsters to beat. Rafa made great progress through the ATP ranking list in 2002 and 2003, cracking the top-50 and heading for more in 2004. For the first time in his career, Nadal failed to progress through the ATP ranking list despite winning his first ATP title in Sopot in August.
Struggling with injuries and the lack of form in the season’s last part, Rafa still achieved a massive goal at the end of 2004 and became the Davis Cup champion with Spain. Gathering a boost ahead of 2005, a teenager was eager to show his best tennis and challenge the rivals from the top.
The young Spaniard advanced to the second week in Melbourne, losing to Lleyton Hewitt in five sets. Rafa made a long trip to the other part of the world and conquered titles in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco to find himself on the verge of the top-30 ahead of Miami.
Nadal became the second-youngest Masters 1000 finalist in Florida, wasting a massive advantage against Roger Federer and losing in five sets despite being two points away from beating world no. 1 in straight sets for the second consecutive year!
Rafael Nadal made his Monte Carlo debut in 2003 at 16, winning two matches.
Hoping for more of the same in Monte Carlo, Nadal ousted Gael Monfils in the first match and played even better against the Belgian Xavier Malisse in the second.
Rafa scored a 6-0, 6-3 triumph in an hour and two minutes to move into the last 16. Dominating serve and return, Nadal lost nine points in his games and grabbed four breaks from as many chances to seal the deal in no time. After the match, Rafa recalled his first appearance in the Principality in 2003 at 16.
He qualified for the main draw and beat Karol Kucera and the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa in straight sets to move into the last 16 on his Masters 1000 debut. Those wins gave him much confidence and proved he could compete at the highest level despite a young age and lack of experience.
“I have great memories from Monte Carlo. It was my first notable tournament, and I played well. I qualified for the main draw and beat Karol Kucera and Albert Costa. I will never forget that, but I must improve and move further from that third round.
Before Monte Carlo 2003, I played in two Challenger finals, winning the title in Barletta and heading to Monte Carlo with confidence. I won two matches there and proved that I could compete against the rivals from the ATP Tour,” Rafael Nadal said.