Rafael Nadal on first Wimbledon win: ‘Mario beat Roger Federer, it was tough’

The 16-year-old Rafael Nadal needed only five months to make a name for himself on the professional level in 2003, moving inside the top-80 after passing over 120 rivals on the ATP ranking list. Following the first Challenger title and Masters 1000 wins in Monte Carlo, Rafa grabbed two triumphs in Hamburg before skipping Roland Garros due to an elbow injury. Unable to play or train on grass, the young Spaniard came unprepared to the All England Club for his first Major tournament and the first event after turning 17. In the first round at Wimbledon, Rafa took down another youngster Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 after grueling three hours and four minutes, becoming the third-youngest player with a victory at the All England Club after Boris Becker and Mats Wilander! There were no less than 30 break chances, and Nadal fended off 11 out of 14 while delivering five breaks and moving over the top for a milestone triumph over the player who defeated Roger Federer in straight sets in the first round a year earlier. Playing on a high level on his main level debut on the fastest surface, Rafa controlled the pace in the opening two sets, struggling a bit in the third and fourth but finding a way towards the finish line and his first Major victory. 

Rafael Nadal beat Mario Ancic in the first round at Wimbleodn 2003.

“I was not missing that much in the third set, maybe after going too defensive; my best tennis came in sets one and two. It was my debut at Majors, and I was a bit nervous. I played junior Wimbledon last year and did a fine job; this year, it’s a pity I could not play the lead-up events before Wimbledon. I like to play on grass, maybe I can not produce my best tennis on this surface, but it has gone my way so far. I practiced on Friday for an hour and again on Saturday and Sunday, feeling well after that elbow injury. I would love to play on the Centre Court. The difference at Wimbledon is that I could not prepare for it properly, staying away from the competition for a month, which is an extended period. Frankly, I did not expect to win the first round here, especially against Mario, because I knew he had beaten Federer last year. I knew it was going to be tough,” Rafael Nadal said.