'Rafa, This Is My Place!' Moya Recalls Funny Moment From First Match v. Nadal
Editor's Note: ATPTour.com is resurfacing features to bring fans closer to their favourite players during the current suspension in tournament play. This story was originally published on 26 July 2019.
Carlos Moya works closely with Rafael Nadal these days as one of his coaches, hoping to guide the World No. 2 to more big titles. But at the 2003 Hamburg European Open, the pair were on opposite sides of the net for their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
A 16-year-old Nadal stunned then-World No. 4 Moya 7-5, 6-4 in their second-round clash. Nadal went on to lead their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 6-2, but their Hamburg clash set the stage for what would become one of the greatest careers in ATP Tour history.
“At that time, I was considered the favourite because I was Top 5 in the [ATP Rankings],” recalled Moya in a video posted by Nadal’s academy in Mallorca. “But he was already someone to look out for and we got a glimpse of what his game would become later.”
Moya had established himself as one of the greatest clay-court players of his generation, winning the 1998 Roland Garros title and reaching No. 1 in the ATP Rankings the following year. Meanwhile. Nadal was competing in only his fifth ATP main draw. But despite his inexperience, the teenager already scored a win the previous month over then-reigning Roland Garros champion Alberta Costa at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
Because many signified the match as a potential changing of the guard in Spanish tennis, Moya felt the attention left both men unable to play their best. An ominous start when they walked on court did little to calm Moya’s nerves.
“In those times, they put the player’s name on the bench. He entered first and went to sit on my bench. He obviously didn’t notice, so I said ‘Rafa, this is my place. You have to go to yours,’” laughed Moya. “It wasn’t the only thing he took from me that day!”
But even as a teenager, Nadal’s humble nature was fully intact. After he scored his first Top 5 win, he apologised to Moya at the net.
“When he beat me, he was very shy. He said, ‘I’m sorry I won’ and I said, ‘No worries’” said Moya. “I understood that it was the first of many times he would win and I knew he was going to be a great player. He’s fulfilled all that he promised at the time.”