The duel under the sun lasted just ninety minutes, just until David Nalbandian had enough energy to fight Rafa Nadal. He on the first set tiebreaker but then he collapsed because an imperfect athletic condition derived from his recent injury; from this point on Nadal had an easy way towards a 67 62 62 success.
The Mallorcan arrived to the expected showdown with a 162-34 record in Masters1000 events and 15 titles out of 21 finals in this kind of tournaments. But his previous three meetings showed ho he suffered Nalbandian's game, mainly his down the line backhands, the Argentinian best stroke, capable of neutralizing the lefty forehands by Rafa.
And the seven games collected by Nadal, although in the "lethargic" period in the end of the season, in 2007 in Madrid and Bercy, when Nalbandian won 61 62 and 64 60, testify how the lanky Argentian is immune from the agonistic presence of his adversary.
"Nalba" arrived to this match after a over-enthusiastically welcomed Davis Cup victories, but returned to earth gaining five games against Melzer in Indian Wells. Rafa couldn't have received relevant indications by his success over the overweight serve&volleyer Taylor Dent.
Nalbandian, centred and dominant in his first service game, surprisingly was the first to be broken when Rafa produced an old-fashioned down the line forehand winning pass. His deep strokes from the baseline forced Nalbandian to a hit-and-run strategy, but he seems not fit enough.
Surprisingly Nalbandian broke again to 3-3 gaining a key break point winning a 25-stroke rally; Nadal gifted him the game with an untimely double fault.
It's the best part of the match. Nalbandian did his homework varying the pace of shots and producing awe-inspiring drops; Nadal fell into the trap and the tiebreak became the most obvious solution.
A series of mis-hits backhands characterized the opening rallies until 4-4 when Nalbandian tried an unusual, for him, serve and volley but netted the forehand volley. Nadal in his best period would have clinched the set. But this isn't the best Nadal and the double fault, with the second serve a yard long doesn't need any further comment. The Spaniard shortened his strokes, and Nalbandian entered with his backhand and went 65. All finished? Not yet. After a series of errors, Nalbandian tried more in the last two points and won the tiebreak 10-8.
It's his swanson. From now on he multiplied his unforced errors and the match soon transformed into a very one-sided contest. Rafa went twice 0-30 in his opening service games, saved a pair of break points in the fifth game, and when he foung himself 3-2 after an hour and 35 minutes he knew the momentum had definitely shifted, the game was undoubtedly won.
The effect of the hip surgery are yet evident, but at least for an hour Nalbandian played definitely better then Rafa. The Mallorcan lost the first set surrendering after a battle of nerves, traditionally one of his preferred situations to prevail, but maintained enough cold blood and determination to change the contest and write a different ending to this story.
His forehands are more and more brilliant, in the distance he appeared refreshed, but he yet lacked the "on court presence", the image of strength he gave forth. But winning helps winning and this success will be a key point in his renaissance heading towards his beloved claycourt European season.