In Montreal 2005, Rafael Nadal stormed over Mariano Puerta to enter the last four. The young Spaniard clinched a 6-3, 6-1 victory in 70 minutes, staying on the title course and producing another excellent performance to move into the semis without losing serve. The youngster lost six points behind the initial shot, never facing a break point and stealing the Argentine’s serve four times to control the scoreboard and race into the next round. A couple of months earlier, Rafa and Mariano were engaged in a much more significant encounter, fighting for the Roland Garros title. After the triumph in Montreal, Nadal said he was very nervous in Paris, fighting for the first Major crown and beating Puerta 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 in three hours and 24 minutes. The Spaniard became the first player since Mats Wilander in 1982 to conquer Roland Garros on debut, standing as the last teenager with a Major crown.
In the first all-lefty men’s final at Roland Garros since 1946, there were two long and entertaining sets, while Nadal dominated the second and third to earn the triumph and write history as the fifth-youngest Major champion. Nadal served at 79%, and that was crucial for him in such an important match, repelling 11 of 14 break chances to limit the damage and keep the pressure on Puerta. The Argentine did win 38% of the return points, but that wasn’t enough to take more than a set, dropping 45% of the points behind the initial shot and suffering eight breaks from 18 opportunities offered to Rafa. Nadal forged the victory in the shortest points up to four strokes, doing more damage with the serve & first groundstroke combo and his return. Puerta had the advantage in the mid-range rallies, and nothing could separate them in the exchanges that reached the tenth stroke, although the Spaniard had 18 points more on his tally, enough to cross the finish line first and lift the trophy.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his first Major final in Paris 2005.
Rafa grabbed an early break before Mariano pulled it back in game six, with both players serving well until the tie break. The Spaniard made a mini-break in the fifth point after an unreal court coverage, and Mariano responded with two return points in a row for a 4-3 lead. Nadal claimed the following two points before the drama continued after the seventh mini-break in a row, as Puerta earned a set point at 6-5 on his serve. Nadal saved it with a superb backhand down the line to extend the returners’ streak, although it wasn’t to be for him, with Puerta taking the breaker 8-6 after 71 minutes of an exhausting contest between two of the finest clay courters. The youngster opened the second set determined to show who was the favorite and the better player in this final, scoring a break in the marathon game four and serving well in the remaining games to build the momentum and confidence.
At 2-5, Puerta saved a set point and finished the game with a diving forehand volley in Becker’s style before Nadal served out for the set in the next one, holding at love after a forehand down the line winner to level the overall score at 1-1. The third set was even more one-sided, with Nadal breaking in the first game and fending off two break chances in game four to create a 3-1 advantage. The Argentine wasted a 40-15 lead in game five to get broken again, standing powerless against the Spaniard’s strong forehand that made his life miserable. The set was quickly over with another break of serve in game seven after Mariano’s double fault that sent Rafa closer to the finish line. Surprisingly, the fourth set started with a break of serve for Puerta, only his second of the match, taking a short-lived lead as Nadal broke back a few minutes later to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard.
The Spaniard was in trouble on serve again at 3-3, escaping from a 0-40 situation with a good drop shot and two service winners. The crowd got involved as the set reached an attractive closure when Puerta held at love to level the score at 4-4. A few minutes later, it looked that the final would go into the fifth set when Mariano broke his young opponent, serving for the set in the tenth game. Nadal revealed his unique determination and mental strength again, coming back from a 40-15 deficit with fantastic defense and breaking the Argentine after saving the third set point to prolong the action. Mariano had to pay for the wasted chances in a well-established tennis pattern, losing his serve and the match in game 12. Rafa earned the match point after a fantastic forehand down the line winner and converted it when Puerta sprayed unforced error to celebrate his first Major title.
“The matches against Puerta at Roland Garros and here in Montreal are entirely different. I felt very nervous in that Roland Garros final, my first at Majors,” Rafael Nadal said.