Fourteen Years Later, Nadal Reflects On Monte-Carlo Debut
It has been 14 years since Rafael Nadal first set foot on the hallowed grounds of the Monte-Carlo Country Club.
A precocious 16 year old with immense promise, Nadal would notch his first Top 10 win over countryman Albert Costa in 2003, before falling to Guillermo Coria in the third round, but that was just the beginning of a reign that sent shockwaves throughout the ATP World Tour for years to come. The Spaniard would return to the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters two years later and proceeded to exact revenge on Coria in the final - his first of eight consecutive titles in the Principality.
Nadal has fond memories from his tenure at the prestigious Masters 1000 event.
"Everything was new for me in that moment," said Nadal. "It was the first big tournament that I played. I started to play Challengers at that time and won the title in Barletta before coming here. So I had a lot of confidence. I played against players that I knew very well from those Challengers.
"I remember I played against Kucera in the first round, my first time here. And then [beating] Albert gave me great feelings. I had nothing to lose and everything to win. There was a lot of adrenaline and that was an important moment for me. After that I cracked the Top 100, which allowed me to play on the ATP World Tour for the rest of the season."
Nadal returns to Monte-Carlo as the defending champion after downing Gael Monfils for his ninth title last year. He is bidding to become the first player to lift 10 trophies at a single tournament in the Open Era. And with Roger Federer taking a break, No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Race To London is well within his grasp as he embarks on his favourite time of year - the clay-court season.
Records aside, Nadal says he finds motivation in kicking off another clay campaign. Following a runner-up finish ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami, momentum is at the Spaniard's back.
"This is an important event. It's one of my favourite events of the year without a doubt. Monte-Carlo is unique for me. I'm trying to work as much as I can to be ready for the competition and adjust my game again to clay.
"I am excited to be here. I started slow to adapt to the clay, hitting for 45 minutes, then one hour and one hour and 30 minutes for the first few days. I did what I needed to avoid the risk for injuries. With more practise, I remind myself how to win the points, how to defend and how to move. It's a process. Things are not that easy. It takes time. I decided to not play on clay in February this year so it's a little different."
Nadal will open his quest for No. 10 against a Brit - Kyle Edmund or Daniel Evans. A third-round clash against #NextGenATP star Alexander Zverev looms large, as does a potential quarter-final match-up versus eighth seed Grigor Dimitrov.
"I am happy playing tennis now. When I don't have injuries and am competitive, I am happy and enjoy it more than winning titles. I am working to try to keep having these feelings in the coming months."