Rafael Nadal on his first notable tournament: ‘I will never forget it’

After failing to make progress through the ATP ranking list in 2004, Rafael Nadal was the player on a mission in the opening months of the following season. The young Spaniard advanced to the second week in Melbourne, losing to Lleyton Hewitt and moving to clay to conquer titles in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco. Nadal earned enough points to find himself on the verge of the top-30 ahead of Miami, where he beat world no. 1 Roger Federer a year ago. Nadal became the second-youngest Masters 1000 finalist in Florida, wasting a massive advantage against Federer in the title clash and losing in five sets despite being two points away from beating world no. 1 in straight sets.

Hoping for more of the same in Monte Carlo, Rafa ousted Gael Monfils in the first match and played an even better one against the Belgian Xavier Malisse in the second, clinching a 6-0, 6-3 triumph in an hour and two minutes to move into the last 16. Dominating on both serve and return, Nadal lost nine points in his games and grabbed four breaks from as many chances to make the strongest start and seal the deal in no time. After the match, Rafa spoke about his first appearance in the Principality at 16 in 2003, when he qualified for the main draw and beat Karol Kucera and the reigning Roland Garros champion Albert Costa in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal made his Masters 1000 debut in Monte Carlo 2003, still at 16.

Nadal played in a couple of Challenger finals at the beginning of the 2003 season and lifted the first trophy in Barletta. Carried by that boost, the youngster qualified for the main draw in Monte Carlo and made the Masters 1000 debut against Karol Kucera. The Slovak could not match the performance of the young gun, who then stunned the Roland Garros champion Albert Costa before losing in the third round to Guillermo Coria.

“I have great memories from Monte Carlo. It was my first notable tournament, and I played well, qualifying for the main draw and beating Karol Kucera and Albert Costa. I will never forget that, but I have to 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 and proved that I could compete against the rivals from the ATP Tour,” Rafael Nadal said.