Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Swiss Roger Federer, world number one and two respectively, met for the fifteenth time in a tour final. At the Mutua Madrilena Open in Madrid, transformed from a hardcourt to a clay court Masters’ event, Federer defeated Nadal 6-4, 6-4 to collect his first title this season.
Unusually, after winning the coin toss, Federer elected to receive service; perhaps, hoping this new strategy will change his luck. After Nadal had no trouble holding serve, with three forehand winners Federer got to 40-15. But, Federer misconnected on two routine forehands giving Nadal his first break point. However, with well-planted first serves, Federer got to 1 all. After Nadal held at love, Federer countered with a dropshot winner at 40-15 tying things up at 2-2. Subsequent to another love game by Rafael, Roger double faulted at game point for deuce. Then, Roger stared at a second break point because of a forehand error. But, Federer avoided calamity with an overhead and forehand winner. With Nadal serving at 4 all and 30 all, Federer hit a forehand down the line winner for his first break point. When Nadal netted a backhand, Federer took a 5-4 lead. Soon afterward, Roger’s first serve clicked helping him to carry the set with a love game.
Serving as is customary to Federer’s backhand, Nadal held at love his first two games. Roger also had triple game point but needed each and everyone to guard serve. In the fifth game, the Swiss manufactured a break point with a dropshot winner. Federer converted by provoking an error from Nadal for 3-2. Once Federer consolidated and Nadal kept pace by preserving his serve, Roger had two forehands go long leading to 0-30 deficit. Again, Federer’s serve came to the rescue allowing him to uphold a thin cushion at 5-3. Despite difficulties, the Spaniard held serve compelling Federer to serve out the match. With a deep return causing Federer to misfire and with a forehand crosscourt winner, Nadal charged to double break point. However, in the longest rally of the match, Rafael missed with a backhand up the line then with a forehand crosscourt resulting in deuce. With an ace down the middle, Federer arrived at match point. But, a sinking return by Nadal made Federer dump the volley into the net for deuce. With a good forehand, Federer obtained his second match point which he converted with an ace.
This 90 minute match was a stark contrast to Nadal’s three set semifinal win over Serbian Novak Djokovic which was a shade over four hours. By far, the best three set contest up-to-date. Federer took out Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals. Del Potro had a sensational victory over Brit Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
Today, in equaling Rafael with fifteen Masters’ shield, Roger’s keys to success were a high first serve percentage, keeping the points short and making break point chances count something he has failed to do in the past. Federer is the only person to prevail over Nadal on clay in the finals and for the second time. Whether this represents a simple glitch in Nadal’s system or a turning point for Federer is hard to discern. This scenario has been played before in 2007 whereby Federer beat Nadal in Hamburg only to crash at the French Open. The proof will be in Paris and the response will come in the two weeks.