An incredible rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal kicked off on March 28, 2004, when the 17-year-old Spaniard took down world no. 1 in straight sets in Miami, performing one of the biggest surprises that season. Twelve months later, they reached the final in Miami, and Roger prevailed after a titanic battle, ousting Rafa 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1 in three hours and 43 minutes in one of the best ATP finals in the last 20 years. It was Nadal’s first Masters 1000 final, becoming the second-youngest finalist at this series after Michael Chang and having everything in his hands until the middle of the third set, leading 6-2, 7-6, 4-1 before Roger started one of the career-best comebacks. The Swiss took the third set tie break and played better and better as the match progressed to lift the first Miami Masters and a “Sunshine Double” after winning Indian Wells two weeks earlier.
Roger won just seven points more than his rival and was two points away from losing in the third set’s tenth game and again in the tie break where Nadal had a 5-3 advantage and a serve for a 6-3 and possible match points, which never happened. Federer won four points in a row to steal the set in a pivotal moment of the entire encounter and lost just four games in sets four and five to march towards the finish line and grab the maiden crown in Florida. Surprisingly, the Spaniard was on the same level with the Swiss in the shortest points, while Roger took charge in the mid-range exchanges and stayed in touch in the most extended rallies that earned the triumph for him in the end. Nadal defended his second serve more efficiently but had to play against 13 break chances, getting broken on seven occasions, including the match’s last three service games. Federer gave serve away five times from nine opportunities (four in the opening set alone) offered to Nadal.
However, we have to say that he raised his level after the third set, delivering fury from the initial shot and keeping the pressure on the other side of the net. It was Roger’s 18th consecutive triumph in the ATP finals and the 22nd win in a row and the 48th in the last 49 matches for complete domination over the rest of the field! Nadal made the best start after breaking in the first game when Roger sent a backhand long, confirming the lead with a service winner in game two to settle into a nice rhythm. Federer was yet to find his shots and had to play against two more break chances in game five, saving them with a service winner and another one with a volley to avoid an even more significant setback. The Spaniard was firing on all cylinders, scoring the second break at 4-2 after Federer’s double fault and serving for the set in the next game. A hold at love pushed Rafa 6-2 up, looking for more of the same in the rest of the clash in what was his most significant ATP final in a young career.
In 2005, Roger Federer prevailed over Rafael Nadal in five sets.
Things went from bad to worse for world no. 1, who got broken again at the beginning of the second set after a poor volley, leaving himself with a lot of work to be done in the remaining games. He reacted quickly and pulled the break back in the next game with a return winner, gaining momentum that drove him towards another break in game four for a 3-1 lead. Roger had a great chance to seal the set with a break in game eight but missed a routine smash that could have cost him dearly had he lost the match in the end. This shot changed everything, and, out of a sudden, Nadal was alive and kicking, breaking back in game nine with a forehand return winner before facing two set points in the next one. Roger missed an easy volley on the first, and Rafa saved the second to get out of jail and level the score at 5-5, gathering a boost and positive vibes ahead of the tie break.
Nadal fired two winners from both wings to move 5-2 up, and the second set was in his hands when Roger netted a forehand in the 11th point, taking a massive two sets to love lead and standing a set away from the first Masters 1000 crown. An 18-year-old had the strings of the encounter firmly in his hands after landing a backhand crosscourt winner in the third set’s game four that pushed him 3-1 ahead. However, it was the last break point Roger would face, an essential fact in his outstanding comeback! Rafa saved a break chance a few minutes later to increase the advantage and come two games away from the triumph when Federer finally found some rhythm on the return to break back in game seven and eliminate the deficit. Looking towards the finish line, Nadal blasted an ace to repel a break opportunity at 4-4, sending the set into a tie break where all the pressure was on Roger, who had no room for errors.
Despite that, Nadal forged a 5-3 lead after Federer’s forehand error, who was now two points away from the defeat. Keeping his focus on a high level, the Swiss attacked with his forehand to get the mini-break back and avoid facing match points, leveling the score at 5-5 with a brave forehand winner. Suddenly, his position on the court looked much better, hitting a smash winner for a 6-5 lead and earning the set when Rafa sprayed a backhand error, rattling off the last four points to remain in the title chase. After missing that one final push that would have sent him over the top, Nadal started to lose ground and netted a backhand to drop serve in the fourth set’s fourth game, which pretty much marked the beginning of his end! Federer sailed through his service games and seized the set with a forehand drive volley winner in game nine for 6-3 and the upcoming decider where he was the clear favorite.
Rafa wasted a game point in the final set’s third game, and Roger found the way to break him with a forehand down the line winner that sealed the Spaniard’s fate. There was nothing Rafa could do in the return games, and Federer had the upper hand in every segment, creating a 4-1 advantage with another break in game five. Serving to stay in the match at 1-5, Rafa lost his serve again, and Roger started a massive celebration of what had been one of the most significant wins in his prime years. Nadal would win the following five clashes against the greatest rival. However, this defeat would hurt for good, as he never won the Miami title, losing five finals overall.