Back in 2009, Masters 1000 series had suffered the first significant changes in years, with Hamburg losing its top status and Madrid moving from an indoor hard event to the spring schedule and clay. Staged at the beautiful Qizhong Tennis Center, Shanghai had become the eighth Masters 1000 event in the calendar and it turned out to be an instant success, voted by players as the Masters 1000 tournament of the year until 2013! World number Roger Federer and world number 3 Andy Murray had decided to skip the inaugural Shanghai event but the other players from the Top 10 were there to fight for the title, with five of them reaching the quarter-final.
The top seed Rafael Nadal had to win just two completed matches in order to reach the final, with Ivan Ljubicic and Feliciano Lopez retiring against him in the quarters and the semis, and the last rival who stood on his path was Nikolay Davydenko who needed more than three hours to dismiss Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, prevailing 7-1 in the deciding tie break for his third Masters 1000 final.
The Russian had won the previous two and he emerged as a champion in this one as well, toppling Nadal 7-6 6-3 in two hours and three minutes to be remembered as the first champion in Shanghai. This was their seventh meeting, the fifth at Masters 1000 level, and Nikolay claimed his third win over Rafa who also prevented him from winning the second missing Masters 1000 tournament in Miami in 2008.
Davydenko won 11 points more than Nadal and he played better on both the first and second serve, delivering the aggression that kept the points on his racquet and reducing Nadal to less than 10 winners in the entire match! The Russian was one of the rare players who had the ability to outplay Rafa in the longer baseline rallies and he showed that in this encounter as well, dominating in the most intense exchanges and staying in touch in the shortest ones as well to secure the straight sets win.
Nadal gave his best to cross the finish line first and he did a good job in saving five out of seven break points, reaching the opening set tie break but managing to score just one break from four chances he created, which wasn't enough to propel him against world number 8.
Davydenko had found the range right from the start and he created three break points in the third game of the match with his trademark backhand volley winner, converting the third with a forehand drive volley winner to draw first blood and move 2-1 ahead.
Another forehand winner pushed him 3-1 up and Nadal responded with a great hold in the following game, hitting a service winner to bring the game home at love and stay within one break deficit. Still, the Russian was on a different level from the start of the match and he created an additional two break points in game seven that could have pushed him further in front.
Rafa stayed focused and he won the next four points to repel the danger and reduce the deficit to 4-3 with a much-needed service winner. Up to that moment, the Spaniard had hit just 6% of the balls from inside the court while that number was on 37% in the case of Davydenko who was hitting the ball flat and early.
Nadal had to do something more on the return and rather quickly, breaking back in the eighth game when Davydenko sent a forehand long, holding in the next game with a volley winner to move back in front and force the Russian to serve for staying in the set.
The momentum was on Nadal's side now and he had a set point in that game, denied by a smash winner from Nikolay who held after a forehand error from Nadal to level the score at 5-5 and stay in contention. The set went into a tie break after an ace from Davydenko in game 12 and he created three set points at 6-3 after a poor forehand from Nadal.
The Russian dominated in the next rally and he used the first short ball from Nadal to attack and close the set with a backhand winner after no less than 75 minutes of a grueling battle. Nadal's backhand wing was under the constant pressure as Davydenko managed to land 90% of his returns to the right wing of his opponent in the opening set and he certainly hoped for more of the same in the rest of the match.
Nonetheless, Rafa had a chance to make the first strike in set number two, creating a break point but squandering it after a poor return. Nikolay held after another service winner and we could have noticed he was more and more aggressive as the match progressed, hitting more than 50% of the balls from inside the court in the rallies! He broke Rafa at 15 in the sixth game after forcing a backhand error from the Spaniard and moving 5-2 ahead after a brilliant backhand cross court winner in the game that followed.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Nikolay delivered three winners to secure the win and the title, completely outplaying Nadal to become a deserved champion of the inaugural Shanghai Masters. Results from the quarter-final stage: