ATP Tennis 360

April 24, 2010 4:23 PM

Ten years of triumph in Rome - part 2. Two memorable finals

When the trainer Stephan Vivier entered oncourt at 2-0 in the third set of the 2005 final, Rafa Nadal had serious wounds on the left hand forefinger, a key finger for a player who, like him, preferred the western grip tp play forehands.

But the blisters weren't enough to persuade the Mallorcan who, as his uncle Toni says, "wants only winning, everytime", to give up.

rafael-nadal.jpgIn a match started under the sunlight, the "Magician" Coria, who had lost to the 19-years-old Spaniard some weeks ago in Montecarlo, dashed out better than the Spaniars and went leading 4-2 before Nadal found a four-games streak to seal the first set. Rafa showed his usual world-class variety of shots, but Coria, thanks to his speed, court craft and an excellent use of the drop-shot worked his way into the match broking to 2-1 in the second. Nadal broke back to 3-3 but Coria won the last three games of the set before Rafa dashed down 4-0 in the forth and sealed it 6-3 forcing the title-match to a decider.

The Spaniard went down 0-3, but the Lazarus from Manacor came back to life. He added cuts to his strokes, although his forehand lost efficacity and pace. Nadal refused the defeat, went leading 4-3 and then 6-5 forcing Coria to extract a lucky forehand bouncing on the line to save a match-point. The evening's empires were flying over the Central Court while the decisive tiebreak started. Rafa had the better start, arriving to the first change of ends leading 5-1. Coria, drowning, fought to remain on the surface. He was broken twice serving for the match at 5-2, missed a forehand on his second match point at 6-4 and double faulted on the third. Finally Coria, after a 17-shots rally he surrendered 'cause of a volley dropped long. The match lasted 5 hours and 14 minutes, the longest final in the tournament history, although the 1979 title-match between Gerulaitis and Vilas had more games, 57.

The 2005 final was the eleventh decided in five sets at the Rome Masters and the fifth involving the same two contender as the Montecarlo title-match. The same circumstance happened also in 1950 (Jaroslav Drobny-Bill Talbert), 1952 (Frank Sedgman-Jaroslav Drobny), 1990 (Andrei Chesnokov-Thomas Muster) and 1997 (Marcelo Rios-Alex Corretja). Only Drobny in 1950 and Sedgman in 1952 had won back-to-back titles before Rafa succeeded in doing it in 2005.

But there's always another higher step after every triumph. And Rafa Nadal, after 12 months, had to jump an even higher hurdle, coming back from 1-4 down in the fifth set against the best player in the world, but not on the clay: Roger Federer.

The Swiss started better but vanished on the key point, stubbornly chosing the wrong strategy, masochistically sacrificing his dazzling talent in the name of a fence-sitter attitude, suicidal against the greatest fighter in the circuit.

Federer, who after 5 hours and 6 minutes lost his third match in a row against Nadal on the clay, upsettingly gave way to his opponent in the second and fifth set tiebreaks despite being, in both cases, 4-2 up.

Federer played better from the ad-side and recurred to a consistent second serve for almost two sets, until the score said 76 66. But Nadal hadn't pause, his adrenaline is in a constant increasing mood and after 3 hours he was two sets to one up ( 67 76 64). Roger saved a pair of break points and slightly quarrelled with Tony Nadal for his loud suggestions. Federer, in his sine wave match, was top-level again when he rushed 6-2 in the fourth and 4-1 in the fifth.

Rafa, however, found key resources in his superhuman athleticism, hit every ball at full force but went near to the end when double-faulted to 5-6 15-40. But Federer limited himself to wait for a never-arriving mistake from Nadal, and with a pair of misdirected forehands found himself entrapped in a tiebreak. Again, he started better, he went leading 4-2 but Nadal won the last five points in a row and ran towards his opponent to the net. "It's not polite to make your opponent waiting for handshaking you" he said after the match.

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