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It has been 7 years since the 2006 Rome Masters final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. That was one of the few times that the Swiss Maestro came close to challenging the ‘King of Clay’ on his favourite surface. The young Spaniard saved numerous match points and came back from 2-5 down in the final set tie break to pull off a famous win and improve his head to head against the then world no.1 Roger Federer to 5-1.
Till 2008, the Nadal-Federer rivalry was one of the greatest the sport had ever seen. It all culminated at the 2008 Wimbledon final where the Spaniard sealed an emphatic victory to take the crown from the Federer Express. Since then, the duo, who have 28 Slams between them, have faced off 12 times and the 7 time French Open champion has emerged victorious 8 times, truly making him the 31 year old's kryptonite, an obstacle he just cannot seemed to cross.
They faced off once again and at this year’s edition of the Rome Masters, meeting for a 10th time in an ATP Masters 1000 final. Nadal looked vulnerable in his opening round matches but delivered a truly astonishing performance in the first set of his straight set defeat of world no.6 Tomas Berdych.
The Maestro, who has had his worst start to a season since 1999, was, on the other hand playing some of his better tennis of the year and it looked like we could have a real match on our hands.
Unfortunately that was not the case as the world no. 5 brought his ‘A’ game to his 8th straight final of 2013 to blitz the world no.3 6-1, 6-3, needing only 69 minutes for a record 24th Masters 1000 title.
Roger Federer opened the match confidently and with aggression in a glorious service game that showcased all his talent. Aces, nice volleys and great forehands. But he lost the plot from there. As Nadal began hitting the ball with heavy topspin on a dry and sunny day in Italy that further aided his high looping forehands to Federer’s one handed backhand.
The match stayed competitive for a while longer with the score line at 1-1, 15-15 on the Swiss great's serve but then errors started spewing from his racket in truckloads as Rafa broke serve and carried on to eventually win 9 games in a row to win the first set 6-1 and lead 3-0 in the second, growing in confidence and looking more and more like the ‘greatest tennis player to step on a clay court’.
Finally, the 17 time Grand Slam winner held serve to register on board in the 2nd set. But he just did not look confident. He really could not get his rhythm going and the long break from tennis really seemed to be affecting his ability to sustain concentration and rallies for longer periods. Moreover, the wind was not allowing him to play his normally aggressive game as even easy ‘put aways’ at the end sailed far over the baseline, gifting points to the defending champion.
The two time finalist held serve once more and even got a break back but Nadal would not be denied and closed out the match in the 9th game to win his 7th Italian Open title.
The Spaniard truly put in a ‘master class’ of a performance and except for the opening game , the 2nd seed never really looked in contention. The unforced error count for the Swiss was a worryingly high number and he made 15 only in the opening set. At one point, Nadal won 20 of 25 points against the 2012 Wimbledon champion.
With this victory, the 5th seed will improve his head to head to 20-10 against Federer and take home his 56th career title. Moreover, the victory will allow him to move up the rankings and a scenario where Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in the same half of the draw will not take place.
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