ThrowbackTimes Madrid: Roger Federer wins crown over exhausted Rafael Nadal

After spending four and a half years at the top of men’s tennis, Roger Federer lost no. 1 spot in August 2008 to Rafael Nadal, who was also the player to beat in the opening four months of the 2009 season. Nadal won the title at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and was the favorite in Madrid too, hoping to win all three clay Masters 1000 titles in a single season for the first time. Played on an indoor hard court between 2002-08, Madrid Open moved to Caja Magica and clay that year, gathering the world’s leading players in the battle for the trophy. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all reached the semi-final, and we saw that fantastic encounter between Rafa and Novak in the fight for the title match. The Spaniard prevailed 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in four hours and three minutes after saving three match points to set up the title clash against Roger, who took down Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets. Nadal gave his best to recover in such a short time and stand as a competitive rival.

Still, Federer took advantage of the circumstances to notch a 6-4, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 26 minutes, becoming the first Madrid champion at Caja Magica on the red surface. It was a significant victory for the Swiss, who started losing ground in the previous months after being defeated by his biggest rivals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome. As we all know, he would carry his Madrid form to Roland Garros, beating Robin Soderling in the final to lift his first and only Major trophy in Paris and achieve a Career Grand Slam. Roger’s plan was simple, as he tried to keep the points as short as possible on the fast Madrid clay and avoid long rallies and the pressure on his backhand. The Swiss wished to avoid the unforced errors that have always been reducing his game against Nadal on the slowest surface. Roger won just five points more than Rafa, repelling all four break chances and seizing both opportunities earned on the return to emerge as a champion, toppling Nadal for the second time in 11 matches on clay.

Roger Federer claimed the Madrid Open title in 2009 at Caja Magica.

Also, the Swiss finally broke Nadal’s streak of five wins in a row, all in notable finals, including Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. It was only the fifth defeat for Rafa on clay in the last 155 matches and the first after 33 straight victories, losing to Roger for the fifth time in 16 ATP finals they had played up to that point. That semi-final clash against Novak took a lot from Nadal, but he was there to fight for every point, creating a break chance in the second game that Roger saved with a service winner to avoid an early setback. The Spaniard was the better player on the court in the first six games, holding with ease and creating another break chance at 3-2 that could have sent him in front. Federer fended it off with a powerful forehand attack, leveled the score at 3-3 with two winners and stayed in touch with his opponent until game nine, when he made a massive step towards the opener. Before that game, Nadal had lost only four points in four service games.

Still, Roger found the way to create a break chance with a forehand winner and converted it when Rafa netted a backhand to move 5-4 up and serve for the set in the next game. Carried by this momentum, Federer held at love with a service winner to clinch the opening set 6-4 after 40 minutes, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter. The Swiss was a more aggressive player on the court, defending the second serve efficiently before seizing the only chance on the return to make the difference. Nadal kept fighting and held at love twice at the start of the second set, with a completely different outcome waiting at 2-2. Roger created a break opportunity with a backhand drop shot winner, and Nadal sealed his own fate when forehand landed long, allowing Federer to move 3-2 ahead and control the scoreboard.

Roger cemented the break with a service winner and opened a 5-3 gap with another unreturned serve in game eight, moving closer to the finish line. Nadal reduced the deficit after deuce, and Roger served for the title at 5-4, standing one good hold away from the trophy. The persistent Spaniard gained two break chances that could have changed the match entirely had he converted any of those. It wasn’t to be for him, though, wasting the first with an open backhand that landed wide and the second when Roger forced an error. After an ace down the T line, the Swiss earned a match point that Rafa saved to prolong the clash. Roger blasted an ace on his second match point to bring the encounter home and lift the 15th Masters 1000 trophy, the first since Cincinnati 2007 and the fifth on clay after four in Hamburg.

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