Rafael Nadal claimed his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Barletta, Italy, in 2003.

My First Challenger Title: Nadal's Historic Victory In Barletta 2003

ATPWorldTour.com reflects on the moment that launched Rafael Nadal's career, on the 15th anniversary of his first ATP Challenger Tour title at 2003 Barletta

Every star has had their start here. Regardless of potential and promise, all players have come through the ATP Challenger Tour as they begin their climb to the upper echelons of the game.

For some, the ascent to the top is lightning fast, rapidly progressing through the level en route to the ATP World Tour. Only seven players have lifted a Challenger trophy at the age of 16 and under. It's no surprise that Rafael Nadal belongs to that exclusive club.

Exactly 15 years ago, Nadal stepped on the clay courts of the Tennis Club Hugo Simmen in Barletta, Italy, and the future World No. 1 would emerge with his first crown. It was a harbinger of the Spaniard's future, as one of the brightest, most precocious young talents to pick up a racquet made his mark. 

"Challengers are some of the biggest tournaments too and it's important to have this step before coming to the ATP World Tour," Nadal told ATPWorldTour.com. "Everything was new for me in that moment. And then Monte-Carlo was the first big tournament that I played. I started to play Challengers at that time and won the title in Barletta. So I had a lot of confidence. I played against players that I knew very well from those Challengers."

Youngest Challenger Winners

Player Age Title
Michael Chang 15 years, 7 months 1987 Las Vegas, USA
Richard Gasquet 16 years 2002 Montauban, FRA
Bernard Tomic 16 years, 4 months 2009 Melbourne, AUS
Kent Carlsson 16 years, 7 months 1984 New Ulm, GER
Marcos Ondruska 16 years, 7 months 1989 Durban, RSA
Richard Gasquet 16 years, 8 months 2003 Sarajevo, BIH
Rafael Nadal 16 years, 9 months 2003 Barletta, ITA
Felix Auger-Aliassime 16 years, 10 months  2017 Lyon, FRA

Nadal would defeat countryman Albert Portas 6-2, 7-6(2) in the final at the Open Citta Della Disfida, announcing his arrival in front of a packed crowd in the eastern Italian coastal town. At the ripe age of 16 years and nine months, he is the seventh-youngest winner in the history of the ATP Challenger Tour. 

"He was already playing very well and the whole world was talking about him," reflected countryman and all-time Challenger match wins leader Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, who fell to Nadal in the first round. "I said to myself, ‘OK let's see how the kid plays’. During the match, he played really good and above all had an incredible mentality. You could already see it."

His arrival was swift and commanding, making his ATP World Tour Masters 1000 debut as a qualifier a few weeks later in Monte-Carlo. He would break into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings with a third-round finish in the Principality. And just four months later, Nadal made his Top 50 debut after notching his second Challenger crown in front of the home faithful in Segovia.

Nadal would not stay at the Challenger level for long, competing in just one more event before making the transition to the ATP World Tour. He reflected on his journey on the circuit in the latest edition of the Challenger Vault...

ATP Challenger Tour