Young Rafael Nadal: ‘It’s physical or mental, but my level has dropped’

Rafael Nadal gained 150 positions on the ATP ranking list in 2003, turning himself from a teenager to watch into a contender for the ATP titles within seven months. Starting from just outside the top-200, Nadal had proved he is too good for the Challenger level in the opening three months, winning one title from four finals and preparing for notable runs in Monte Carlo and Hamburg, still at 16! Rafa skipped Roland Garros and every pre-Wimbledon event due to an injury and returned to the action at the All England Club, where he reached the third round on a debut! The Spaniard returned to clay and advanced into his first ATP semi-finalist in Umag before becoming the champion in Segovia Challenger. 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 the Madrid Masters debut, Rafa lost in the first round to a compatriot Alex Corretja. The more experienced Spaniard 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. Corretja won four points more than a teenager, delivering six breaks and leaving the second set behind to prevail in the decider and reach the second round. Nadal was unhappy with his game despite a great year, saying he was yet to find the form after an injury and did not like his defensive style with no aggression. 

Rafael Nadal suffered an early loss at the Madrid Masters in 2003.

“I have not played well. Even though I’ve been training hard during the last weeks, something was missing in the matches. I do not know if it’s physical or maybe mental control, but I’m not playing as well as I used to. But that happens; what we have to do is to keep working hard. Last week, my game was too defensive 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 do not 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 was not that bad today, and I was pleased with how it worked on the practice court, and I usually do not 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 lacked confidence when it mattered the most. I want to congratulate my rival,” Rafael Nadal said.