November 20, 2005: David Nalbandian downs Rogers Federer in a thriller


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November 20, 2005: David Nalbandian downs Rogers Federer in a thriller

After a historic 2004 season, Roger Federer was hungry for more in 2005 as well, winning 11 ATP titles just like Rafael Nadal and finishing with an 81-4 score to confirm the number 1 status for the second consecutive season.

Before the last match of the season in the final of the ATP Finals in Shanghai, Roger was on a verge of repeating what John McEnroe did in his glorious 1984 season (82-3) but he just fell short, losing to David Nalbandian 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-1 7-6 in four hours and 33 minutes in one of the most thrilling ATP Finals title matches! Roger struggled with an injury and David won 10 games in a row to open up a 4-0 lead in the decider before the Swiss bounced back to stay competitive until the very last point, losing the deciding tie break (the first at this tournament since 1988) and breaking his amazing 35-win streak that started in June in Halle! Roger was the player to beat outside clay that season and he competed at just 15 events that season (he was sidelined for six weeks before Shanghai due to a right ankle injury), overcoming a tough defeat to Marat Safin in Melbourne to dominate in the next 10 months and stay ahead of Nadal and other rivals.

But, he couldn't go all the way in the last ever ATP Finals on an indoor carpet surface, moving through the plagued field (Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were all forced to withdraw before or during the event) before losing to Nalbandian in one of the most entertaining matches of the season on November 20, missing a chance to become the first player since Ivan Lendl with three consecutive ATP Finals crowns.

After winning the crucial points in the opening two sets, Federer started to struggle more and more and he had to receive a left thigh treatment after the third game of the fourth set, unable to move like he would have wanted in the next 30 minutes before giving the crowd something to cheer about and barely missing a chance to complete an incredible turnaround.

Nalbandian grabbed 11 breaks from 15 opportunities, something you can't see that often against Roger Federer, and he saved 14 out of 20 break points to emerge as a winner. There were 386 points overall and Roger had more service winners and forehand winners, with David who took charge with his backhand and volleys.

The Argentinian managed to tame his shots in a more efficient way, spraying some 20 unforced errors fewer than Roger that delivered the title for him in the end. David stayed in touch with Roger in the shortest points, which was extremely important, and he had a clear advantage in the mid-range in longer rallies, moving his rival around the court with well-placed groundstrokes and constructing the points in the way to take the rhythm away from Federer.

The outsider opened the match with a break, forcing an error from Roger with a backhand down the line to gain an early momentum. The Swiss pulled the break back in the very next game and he moved 4-2 up after an amazing forehand cross court winner in game six, only to lose the advantage in the next game after a drop shot winner from Nalbandian who erased the deficit to stay in the contention.

Serving to stay in the set at 5-6, David brought the game home with a backhand winner to set up a tie break that Roger won 7-4 after a lucky net cord return winner, moving ahead in just under an hour. Nalbandian was the first to make a bad move in set number two, sending a forehand error at 2-2 to send Roger ahead, missing a break point on Federer's serve in the following game to find himself 4-2 down.

Roger played a terrible service game at 4-3, hitting one loose shot after another to get broken and squandering two break points in game 11 to serve for staying in the set at 5-6. He did that with a perfect drop shot to secure another tie break where he saved three set points to steal the breaker 13-11 and forge a huge lead before the rest of the match (Nalbandian was robbed while leading 5-3).

David was there to compete and he earned an early break in the third set, clinching another one in the seventh game after a backhand down the line to jump into a 5-2 lead. In one of the longest games of the match, the Argentinian saved three break points in the following game, securing the set 6-2 and keeping his chances alive against the rival who really struggled in the last half an hour or so.

Nalbandian was the only player on the court in the fourth set, winning six straight games to wrap it up in just over 30 minutes and playing in the same style in set number five to open up a 4-0 lead after rattling off 10 straight games! Out of sudden, Federer was back in the game, firing a forehand down the line winner to reduce the deficit to 4-3 and creating what could have been a crucial break point in the 11th game.

He converted it to come just a game away from the title but it wasn't to be for him, losing serve in the next game after a backhand down the line winner from Nalbandian who claimed the deciding tie break 7-3 after a forehand error from Roger to cross the finish line and lift the biggest title of his career.

David had become only the second Argentinian player with an ATP Finals title after Guillermo Vilas 31 years ago and he was also the last champion of this event in the best-of-five final and on the carpet surface.