As we all know, Rafael Nadal clinched the most of his titles on clay but his first ATP final came in Auckland 2004 at the age of 17, losing to Dominik Hrbaty in a tight third set and reaching the third round at the Australian Open.
12 months later he advanced into the fourth round of the Australian Open, pushing Lleyton Hewitt to the limits before losing in five sets, and he shined on clay in February, winning titles in Sao Paulo and Acapulco. In 2004 he stunned Roger Federer in Miami and he had another great run in 2005, beating five players to earn the place in the final, his first at Masters 1000 series and the biggest on hard courts of his young career.
He had a great chance of winning the title, squandering a huge lead against Roger Federer before the Swiss took control to dominate in the fifth set and leave Nadal empty handed but it was an impressive tournament for an 18-year-old that boost his confidence before an amazing clay season he managed to deliver.
In the semi-final match, Nadal toppled the fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4 6-3 in an hour and 31 minutes, avenging a tough loss to David in Stuttgart in summer of 2004 and moving into his third ATP final. Rafa served at 69% and he lost 17 points in nine service games, facing two break points and dropping serve once to keep the pressure on the other side of the net. David failed to make any impact in his games, holding without bigger problems only twice and getting broken four times from six opportunities that Nadal created.
Both players made more winners than errors and the younger Spaniard controlled his shots in a more efficient way, dictating the pace from the baseline with his deep and accurate groundstrokes and counting numerous errors from his rival to seal the deal in a strong fashion.
Nadal had one loose service game but that didn't cost him much as he already forged a big lead in the opening set and he dropped five points in the entire second set to sail towards the finish line. Ferrer was unable to impose his shots from the baseline or to move Rafa from the comfort zone, struggling to find an open space against the super quick opponent who covered the court beautifully or to pass him with direct points.
David had to chase the lines and go with risky shots in order to take the initiative away from Nadal but that didn't end well for him, spraying more than 40 errors overall and not matching Rafa in the winners department.
A teenager played a well-composed game, finding the right balance between defense and aggression, hitting the same number of winners from the forehand and backhand wings and he had a clear edge in the longest points to earn the win fair and square.
Ferrer was 11-8 in front in service winners but that couldn't stand as a game-changer in the matches between these two players. Nadal made a 17-10 difference in the winners from the field, firing seven from forehand and backhand each and allowing only four forehand winners from his rival.
The unforced errors were the crucial element of this match as David sprayed no less than 33, 21 of those from his forehand that let him down completely (many times in the crucial moments) against such a strong opponent on the other side of the net.
Rafa stayed on 18 unforced errors and despite the fact he had more forced errors (13-7) he would never lose the match with numbers shaped so much in his favor. Overall, Rafa had 25 winners and 31 errors while David counted to just 21 winners and 43 mistakes so it is safe to say he could have been satisfied with these seven games he won.
Rafa was 31-27 in front in the shortest points up to four strokes and they split the mid-range exchanges, winning 16 each. Nadal earned his win in the more extended rallies, grabbing 21 out of the 30 longest points thanks to his outstanding anticipation and the ability to cover both sides of the court no matter how intensive the rival's attacks are.
It was the worst possible start of the match for David, wasting two game points and getting broken after five errors he has made. Nadal was 15-30 down on serve in game two but he closed it with two service winners to confirm the break and move 2-0 ahead.
Ferrer failed to find his range and he lost two long exchanges in game three (20 and 24 shots) to lose serve once again after a forehand winner from Rafa. We saw two deuces in game four on Nadal's serve but he managed to avoid break points with two winners in the closing stages of the game and after some basic errors from Ferrer who was yet to make an impression in this match.
Ferrer started to play with more aggression in game five and he still had to play against the break point after a costly double fault. He saved it and brought the game home with two service winner and forced errors from Nadal to get his name on the scoreboard and reduce the deficit to 4-1.
Nadal held with ease in game six to continue his strong run and he reached another deuce on the return in game seven, moving two points away from the set. David held with two quick points and he pulled one break back in game eight after three errors from Nadal who lost his focus while serving for the set.
There was another deuce on Ferrer's serve in game nine (Nadal stayed in touch with a forehand winner after 24 shot-rally) but he held after two service winners, forcing Rafa to serve for the set again. This time there were no mistakes from Nadal and he grabbed the game and the set after 52 minutes thanks to three mistakes from Ferrer in that 10th game.
David was 8-5 in front in terms of service winners but Nadal compensated that with 11 winners from the court compared to six from Ferrer. The older Spaniard made 19 unforced errors while Nadal stood on 12 and that determined the winner of the set despite a 7-3 deficit for Nadal in forced errors department.
Just like in the opening set, Ferrer made four errors at the start of set number two to give his serve away at love. Nadal did everything right in the second game to grab it with three winners and create a commanding 6-4 2-0 gap.
David held with three service winners in game three and this was very important for his confidence, having to work hard in order to get back to the scoreboard. He couldn't do much on the return in game four, allowing Rafa to move 3-1 ahead with a hold at love, and Nadal earned a break point in game five after a 29-stroke rally.
David saved it and he completed the game with a long 18-shot exchange that kept him within a one break deficit. Rafa had two winners in game six for a 4-2 lead and they both held at 30 in the following two games, with Ferrer serving to stay in the match in the ninth game.
He made four quick errors to end his run in the worst possible way, sending Nadal into his first Masters 1000 final. They had three service winners each in set number two and Nadal was 6-4 ahead when we check the winners from the field.
He also made more forced errors, six to four, which was better than in set number two, but Ferrer's unforced errors cost him the set once again, spraying 14 compared to only six from Rafa. Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: