Shanghai Flashback: Roger Federer dominates Rafael Nadal to lift the trophy

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer met in the first Masters 1000 final in Miami 2005. Twelve and a half years later, two rivals battled for another Masters 1000 trophy in Shanghai. It was their 38th match on the Tour, and Roger scored the 15th triumph over Rafa in a dominant fashion, toppling the Spaniard 6-4, 6-3 in 72 minutes on October 15, 2017. It was Roger’s 94th ATP title and 27th at Masters 1000 level, the second in Shanghai after 2014. Starting from Basel 2015, this had been the fifth consecutive victory for Federer over Nadal, his best streak against the Spaniard that included seven straight sets claimed since that epic clash in the Australian Open’s final in January! Like in Indian Wells and Miami, Roger did just about everything right to oust Rafa, using the indoor conditions and one of the fastest hard courts on the Tour to spoil Nadal’s chances of taking the first Shanghai crown.

It was a critical encounter for the Spaniard, who had won the last 16 matches starting from the US Open, seeking the first Shanghai title and hoping to seal the year-end no. 1 position, only to experience a severe loss. As was expected, Federer was in the attacking mode right from the start, taking the ball early and keeping the points on his racquet almost all the time. His serve worked like a charm, supplementing that with a marvelous performance from his groundstrokes that kept him away from the unforced errors. Roger was also in the safety zone with his backhand, like he did in the first part of the season. The Swiss served at 68%, dropping eight points in eight service games and earning the freedom to attack the return and keep Nadal under constant pressure. The Spaniard landed 74% of the first serve in, but that did not give him much besides a respectable number of service winners.

He could not deal with Roger’s deep returns or impose his shots with the first groundstroke, standing inferior in the exchanges and finishing the clash with just five winners from the court! Besides that, Nadal’s backhand was nowhere near his usual level, never looking like a player who could have turned the result into his favor, not against the rival who prepared a masterclass game plan and carried it out completely. There were no deuces in Roger’s games, with the Swiss doing more than enough on the return to create seven break chances and convert three to bring the match safely over the finish line. Both players had 21 service winners, but Nadal’s problem was that his initial stroke represented his best shot, not a usual pattern towards success for the Spanish giant. Roger was the dominant figure from the field, firing 17 winners (nine forehands and five from his backhand wing) and leaving Nadal far behind to create a massive gap in that segment.

Roger Federer ousted Rafael Nadal to win the Shanghai 2017 title.

Federer sprayed just seven unforced errors, an impressive number considering how aggressive he was, while Nadal counted to 15, hitting ten from his backhand alone. The Swiss hit three forced errors more (11-8), an irrelevant number for the overall score since he had the upper hand in both the shortest and more extended rallies, another clear sign of his domination in this encounter. Federer was 38-31 in front in the points up to four strokes, and the advantage in the mid-range exchanges from five to eight shots was even more significant, winning 17 out of 26! Only ten points reached the ninth shot, and Federer did not stay behind in them either, taking six to outplay Nadal fair and square. Roger could not hope for a better start; his return and backhand worked well from the first point to break Nadal in the first game. Federer returned six of Nadal’s eight serves and earned a break with two backhand winners, which proved very important for the rest of the clash.

Federer moved 2-0 in front with two service winners and Nadal’s errors before the Spaniard put his name on the scoreboard in the next game with three service winners. Everything worked well for the Swiss so far; his serve made a lot of damage and had the edge over Nadal from the baseline to control the scoreboard. After losing serve in that opening game, Nadal dropped just two points in the next three service games and closed all of them with a service winner, which was his most efficient shot. In games eight and nine, we saw four winners from both, and Roger had a chance to serve out for the opener at 5-4. He did that in style, wrapping up a set after 35 minutes with an additional four winners. Federer lost only four points on serve, delivering risky shots and winning ten out of 14 mid-range rallies to leave Nadal empty-handed. Roger won two points on the return at the beginning of the second set before Nadal closed the game by forcing his opponent’s error.

The Swiss hit two service winners in game two to make the result even at 1-1. Rafa moved in front in game three thanks to three service winners (he was already on 17 but would get only four until the end of the match) and reached 30-30 in the next game before Roger held with two winners. Rafa struggled to find the rhythm in the past six service games, although he avoided deuces or break opportunities. That all changed in game five when Roger broke to open up a 3-2 lead. The Spaniard had only two service winners in ten points and did not feel comfortable without those, as Roger pushed strong with his groundstrokes. Federer had three winners and created two break chances, converting the second when Nadal sent another backhand wide to pretty much seal his fate. Roger was in complete control, jumping into a 4-2 advantage after another comfortable hold, hitting two service winners and one from his backhand for another big step towards the title.

Nadal reduced the deficit to 4-3 with a volley winner, only his fourth from the court. He could not do anything on the return in the next one, as Roger blasted three more unreturned serves for a 5-3 advantage. After just 69 minutes, Nadal served to stay in the match, and the pressure was too big to handle, getting broken for the third time to hand the victory to his rival. Roger opened the game with a winner and did not have to do much in the remaining points since Nadal made three errors, closing the encounter with a loose forehand right after the serve. Nadal’s last forehand pretty much summarized his entire performance from the baseline on that day, needing much better numbers if he wanted to stay on level terms with Federer, who overpowered him completely to lift his second Shanghai crown.

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