Rafael Nadal recalls: ‘Roger Federer experienced the same thing a year ago’

After 23 consecutive victories, Roger Federer suffered a 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Dominik Hrbaty in the Cincinnati first round. Roger took 11 points more than Dominic, but he failed to make one last push and win in straight sets. The Swiss converted two break chances in the opener and nine after that, losing serve at 4-4 in the decider to propel the Slovak through. A year later, world no. 2 Rafael Nadal also experienced an early Cincinnati exit, losing to Tomas Berdych 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 after three hours and three match points he squandered! Rafa claimed the title in Montreal a few days earlier and did not seize his chances in Ohio to extend the winning streak. Delivering better numbers behind the first serve, Tomas repelled ten out of 12 break chances with brave and aggressive tennis and prevailed in the decisive moments to stun world no. 2.

The Czech had over 50 winners and unforced errors, kept the points on his racquet and passed all the obstacles to make a winning start and send Nadal packing. Wasting his opportunities, Rafa dropped serve four times from six opportunities offered to Tomas, losing ground in those decisive moments to suffer the first loss after 16 straight victories. Nadal drew first blood in the ninth game when he broke at love and served for the opener. Staying composed, Berdych saved a set point and pulled the break back to level the score at 5-5. Nadal won the tie break 7-4 with a service winner and moved closer to the finish line and his 17th consecutive triumph.

Rafael Nadal wasted three match points against Tomas Berdych in Cincinnati 2005. 

From 40-0 in the second set’s fifth game, Rafa got broken after Tomas’ lucky net cord and lost serve again at 2-4 before the Czech clinched the set on his serve a few minutes later. Struggling with left leg issues, Rafa tried to make a fresh start in the decider, serving well and creating five break chances at 4-3. One of those would have pushed him closer to the finish line, but Tomas was not to be denied, erasing them and bringing the game home to remain in contention. Berdych grabbed a break in the next game and served for the victory at 5-4 before getting broken to keep the Spaniard alive. In the 12th game, Berdych overpowered those three match points with some brave hitting, entered the tie break and seized it 7-3 to advance into the second round. 

“I was not lucky with the draw. I said that already in Montreal because Tomas Berdych is a great player. The conditions were different, and I did not have enough energy. Also, Tomas played on a high level; that’s why I lost today. I had three match points but could not do much on any of those, despite giving my best. The same thing happened to Roger Federer a year ago against Dominik Hrbaty. Tomas and I have played junior matches; he is a year older than me. I was trying to extend the rallies but without the energy to play more aggressive tennis and attack. I was probably a bit mentally tired as well. I do not like losing, especially after those three match points, but I have to find positive notes and bounce back at the US Open,” Rafael Nadal said.

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