The rivalry that has marked an entire generation. Thus the duels between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could be defined. The two people who, arguably, brought the mass phenomenon to a product that was becoming fully globalized. Never before has a rivalry so exacerbated fanaticism among fans, as they were the perfect matchups. In every aspect of tennis Federer and Nadal were absolutely antagonistic. After a duel of result and strange development the previous year, 2005 provided the first great classic between Federer and Nadal. It was in Crandon park and it happened just 15 years ago. Today we analyze what that Miami final was, the second Fedal.
The context: Nadal came to Miami like a real shot. He had conquered the titles of Costa do Sauipe Y Acapulco and he had established himself in the top 30 of the ranking in what would be the preview of his first great clay court tour (including, of course, the first Roland Garros). That young Balearic in tank tops that did not miss a ball began to show himself as a force to be reckoned with on the circuit. For his part, Federer was the undisputed king of the world. Just a Safin in a state of grace he had separated him from another Grand Slam, but the Swiss had recovered without any problem, winning consecutively in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells (in the latter without giving up a single set). Except for an exceptional match by one of his contemporaries, Roger did not seem to know a real threat with enough consistency to shake his reign. That game in Miami would end up being a warning to sailors.
The first set of this duel was a very rich sample of nuances of a rivalry still in diapers. In the collective memory it remained as a horrifying partial of Roger. It was, no doubt, but Federer was beginning to realize the reality that awaited him against Nadal: the presence of a left-hander with hardly any flaws in his system forced him to alter their more mimicked play patterns. Climb with the right inside-out? Risk too high, since that way expected Nadal’s right. Where before he could corner the setback of his rivals, Roger now found a wall that one could not go to quickly.
So, the Swiss decided to mercilessly attack the net attacking Rafa’s backhand. And that tactic was a real disaster because of the way it was executed: without any previous point construction. At the slightest chance he saw, Roger decided to tickle Rafa, but he was never in a position to land a final blow: he hit still from the bottom, without having carved out a previous advantage. In the fifth game of that first set, Federer loses two exactly the same points in which Nadal has no problem in placating his ups with his cross backhand. At 2-4, 15-30, Nadal connects another direct backhand pass. Roger gives up the second break with a double fault and after half an hour, Nadal finds himself with the first set in the bag: 6-2.
(One of the many examples that illustrate how Roger always left the door open upside down from Nadal).
The rest of the keys that explain this uneven marker are found in Federer’s serve, unable to practically get no advantage (very poor 25% points earned with your second service). The reliability of Nadal’s backhand had left KO to the Swiss, who ended up connected 20 unforced errors. It seemed that Roger could not believe what he was seeing: he did not know what to do to overwhelm his opponent.
The second set seemed to follow the same trend, with Federer giving away the initial break. However, the Swiss was reborn from his ashes thanks to a blow that changed the dynamics of this duel: the parallel right. In the second game of the second set, two winners with this blow and the first direct rest of the game set the standard for Roger to follow and gave him his first break in this duel. With 2-1 and 0:30 we appreciate the tactic with which Federer regains control: attack with that inside-out right to have Nadal on the move and, yes, going up his backhand side with a much more forced Rafa. Roger began to change directions much more and take advantage of drops and balls in the middle of the track to climb unexpectedly. At 3-1 on the mail, Federer connects two aces and sprints to a 5-2 lead with a completely revamped game plan: Nadal had yet to earn a point with his second serve in the second set.
The reality is that Roger had that partial in his pocket. “He’s left-handed and I have to get used to it. And he wasn’t capable! Maybe he was playing very aggressive inning. When I could understand his game was already set and break down. The subsequent reaction was good. I lost a lot of opportunities but surviving all this was incredible. “
What opportunities is Roger referring to? Perhaps, that with 5-2 and 15-30 he missed two remains of second serve in a row; that, with deuce in that same game, he eats a shot in the most atypical fault of the whole game, and that with 5-3 and 30 equals Federer shows the door to manacorí. Here comes the example that tennis is a mental sport and that in a party there are several “Mini-matches”That are played without us being aware. Roger serves open and has a ball that, in that entire second set, had hit parallel to close the point. This time, that mid-court ball turns into a control hit. Nadal, determined, attacks and opens the track on the right side of Roger, to finish nailing a winner and getting a point after the long-awaited break. Federer had doubted for the umpteenth time and Nadal, still at 18, I already knew what to do when I smelled blood.
(Federer’s failed smash. As we can see, he is not even able to hit the ball firmly.)
History would repeat itself, with Federer enjoying 2 break balls this time. 15-40, Nadal invites him to come up with a very short ball and the Swiss approaches the net with a blow that leaves him sold. Rafa ended up closing that game with a shout that caused the crowd to explode. The psychological blow that the manacorí had just dealt was tremendous: for the first time in a long time Federer had mistrusted his game pattern at key moments, and for the first time in a long time he saw that it was not he who was hooking the stands.
With 3-2 in the tiebreak in Nadal’s favor, the manacorí plays the best point of the match in a very long rally that closes with a short parallel backhand of beautiful workmanship. That 7-6 was a demonstration of race, survival and heart, but also of how from minute 1 of this rivalry Nadal took Roger to the limit of tennis … and mental. Federer had earned more points in that set… and still I had lost it.
Roger kicked off the third set totally out of focus with his drive, making mistakes everywhere, as if he didn’t trust that shot anymore. Nadal would finalize the break and put the 4-1 on the scoreboard, growing based on a right that was beginning to loosen and connect several winners. The serve was a hindrance for the Swiss, who began to glimpse his greatest nemesis in years to come: the brutal amount of spin that Rafa imprinted on his rest and that, stripped of all confidence in his right, made him lose the initiative after his second knock. That was any anomaly in the circuit (see photo). Everything seemed to be heading towards a comfortable victory in three sets for the Mallorcan and his first Masters category title.
Two hours of game on the scoreboard. 4-1 and 15:15 for Nadal. A lady’s scream interrupts Federer’s motion to serve. Ice cold look. At the next point, Roger connects an almost impossible backhand passing pass and then successfully volleys. Spurred on, he starts to raise the level of aggressiveness with his drive. Nadal doubts, with 15:15 he commits a forehand error and a long backhand in his shot after the serve. For the first time Federer has a loophole to the rest and takes advantage of it.
Luck smiled on the Swiss. In a wink of fate, Federer recovered from a 0-30 in the next game after a long right … which was chanted as good. Nadal did not believe the line judge’s decision. In this compromised situation, Federer showed calm and hierarchy, connected two first serves in a row and came out of the hole again. It is here when the game begins to boil, with both tennis players taking their best level. It is constant exchange of blows, in which Federer tries to assert a right that returned to life before Rafa’s topspin blows. With 4-4, Nadal saves a break ball with a decision that demonstrated the intelligence and bravery of that kid: a serve stuck to the T that moved away from a Roger who was inverted to cover the reverse. Between comings and goings, moments of tension and a tennis that grew at times we reached a new decisive tie-break.
The tiebreak was started by Nadal with a perfect open serve and Federer followed with a double fault to make it 0-2. Nadal was twice minibreak up because of Roger’s mistakes, but whenever he had the advantage he played short, stressed, as if it were the rival who had to deliver the game. A millimeter right to Federer’s career saved him from giving Rafa two match balls, and bombarding Nadal’s setback with different heights gave him a third set wrapped in drama. The maxim that Rafa plays better being behind on the scoreboard and not with a clear advantage at that time defined very well the warrior character of the Balearic Islands. With a renewed 55% of points earned with the second serve and regained, at least, security from the side of his right, Federer took the first step towards one of the biggest comebacks of his sports career.
The fourth set was a totally different story. The dynamics of the party had completely changed. This is demonstrated in the percentages serving the Swiss: after a mediocre 50% of first connected services on the roller coaster that was the third set, his first shot almost went up to 69%. Roger began to find the corners with his service, to open the court with his second forehand and to make the game his own by taking time to hit a Rafa who morally knew he had had the game in his hand. In that set, Roger did not face any breaking ball and that gave him enough calm to let go of the rest, to start being creative knowing that his serve gave him a wide mattress of tranquility.
The parallel right came back to revive to get a break that the Swiss never released. Nadal began to show symptoms of exhaustion, arriving a step later to the right of the Swiss and significantly slowing down his service. The tables had definitely changed, and the feeling was that Nadal had not been able to materialize his best opportunity to close the duel. Thanks to an indisputable 89% of points earned with the first serve, 6-3 and to the fifth set.
That the final set started with a volley from Nadal to the net with the entire track open would be a premonition of what was to come. Of course, with 1-0 and 40 equal Nadal had a small opportunity to put the cruising speed. After a rest of second very short serve and another that directly stamped against the net, not specifying the break was the score for Nadal at a psychological level (the marker, really, said that the game was very even. The sensations, no). Roger put the direct and once he made the break, that first blow was final before an absolutely ripped Rafa. The 15 unforced errors in the last part they signed the sensations and the game. Federer was champion of Miami in the first big game of a legendary rivalry.
The picture of the two protagonists smilingWaiting together for the official ceremony was proof of the enormous respect that was beginning to develop between the two titans of the sport. Also that this game full of nuances left positive conclusions for both. On the one hand, Federer completed one of the biggest comebacks of his career and showed his fighting spirit, knowing how to find concrete solutions and emerging from very complicated situations. On the other hand, Nadal gave a good account of his determination and laid the foundations of what was going to be the style that repeatedly disassembled the tennis structures of Federer, making him modify patterns … and all this, of course, on hard courts and with 18 years.
That 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 and 6-1 was just a small sample of what was to come: two tennis players who transcended their sport face to face, on the same court. This was his analysis, today, 15 years later.