On April 17, 2005, an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal had won the first Masters 1000 title in a career, ousting Guillermo Coria 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in three hours and nine minutes, making the first big step on his glorious clay-court trail that made him the biggest player on the slowest surface in history.
This was only the tenth tournament for Nadal at this level (making a debut here two years ago) and was already ranked in the top-20 after reaching the final in the previous Masters 1000 tournament in Miami where he squandered a huge lead against Roger Federer to fall in five sets.
Pumped and motivated to prove himself on the beloved clay, Nadal stormed over four rivals to reach the semis in Monte Carlo, losing 14 games in total against Gael Monfils, Xavier Malisse, Olivier Rochus and Gaston Gaudio and advancing into the last four where he faced another huge talent born in 1986, Richard Gasquet.
The match lasted two hours and 45 minutes and Rafa had to save a break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before scoring a crucial break that sent him into the final. Guillermo Coria was the player who halted Nadal's amazing run in Monte Carlo 2003 at the age of 16 and this was a nice chance for the Spaniard to serve a revenge and beat the defending champion and last year's Roland Garros finalist.
At the age of 18 years, ten months and 14 days, Nadal had become the youngest Masters 1000 champion since Michael Chang in Canada 1990 and it is hard to imagine someone would take him down from the second place on the list.
Despite a one-sided scoreboard in the opening three sets, it took more than three hours for Nadal to wrap up the win and prevail in the contest between two of the finest clay-courters at that moment, winning 14 points more than Guillermo and defending his second serve better to fend off 11 out of 16 break points.
Coria struggled to find the pace on his second serve and had to play against 20 break chances, falling on seven to hand the triumph to his rival despite a break point in the ninth game of the fourth set that could have kept him in contention had he managed to take it.
The Argentinian had more winners but also more unforced errors, staying close to Rafa in the shortest, mid-range and most extended rallies but trailing a little bit in all of those to finish runner-up in the grueling contest with more than 80 exchanges with ten shots or more.
Guillermo made a perfect start, winning five points in a row to break Rafa in the first game of the match with a forehand drop shot winner at the net and holding in game two after a 36-stroke rally for a 2-0 lead. Rafa got the break back at 2-3 after a double fault from the Argentinian and gained the momentum, coming for a 3-1 down to rattle off five games in a row and clinching the opener 6-3.
Coria sent a backhand long to get broken again in game eight and the last game of the set proved to be the longest of the match, with Nadal serving at 5-3. The Spaniard had to save three break points as the rain started to increase and the set was in his hands when Coria netted a backhand in the 14th point to hand the opener to his young rival.
Nadal was the player on the mission at the moment and he broke at love at the start of the second set after a forehand mistake from Guillermo, repelling two break points in the next game to confirm the break and grab the seventh consecutive game.
Things went from bad to worse for Guillermo who hit a double fault in game five to fall 4-1 behind, losing nine out of the last ten games to find himself in real trouble. Rafa was the better player in the crucial points and he saved two more break points in game six, closing it with a service winner to move 5-1 in front and forcing Coria to serve to stay in the set.
The Argentinian sprayed four errors to lose serve at love and Nadal was now a set away from the title, playing better and better and looking good to seal the deal in straight sets. The youngster controlled the pace after a slow start, winning 11 of the last 12 games and saving seven out of eight break points he faced since the start of the encounter to take a commanding lead before the rest of the clash.
Guillermo had to act quickly and made things better at the start of the third set, breaking in the opening game when Nadal played a loose backhand, repeating that in game three after a 23-shot rally and another backhand mistake from the Spaniard.
Rafa had a chance to pull one break back a few minutes later but squandered three break points to fall 4-0 behind and lost serve for the third time in a row in game five when he netted a forehand. Serving for the set, Coria saved a break point with a service winner and grabbed the set after another groundstroke error from Nadal, delivering a bagel and gaining the momentum before the fourth set that he also had to win to stay in contention.
Rafa struggled a lot in the last half an hour and he had only one winner and 19 errors in the third set, unable to maintain the level from the opening two where he had the upper hand. The Spaniard quickly restored the order, breaking Coria in the second game of set number four with an amazing volley winner and held in the next game after another excellent point that pushed him 3-0 up.
Guillermo came back from a 40-0 down to force a deuce on the return in game five but Nadal managed to hold with a lob winner that sent him 4-1 ahead, moving closer and closer to the finish line. The match could have been over when Coria hit a double fault at 1-4 to offer two break points to Rafa, digging deep to save them all and bringing the game home when Nadal's forehand landed long.
That game became even more important when Guillermo broke back at 2-4, moving back to 4-4 after a good hold in game eight. A forehand winner gave Guillermo a break point that could have turned the scoreboard around completely, denied by a forehand winner from Nadal in what had been one of the crucial strokes the Spaniard had hit in the entire match.
Rafa brought the game home with two more winners to remain in front and they both served well in the following two games, leaving Coria to serve for staying in the match at 5-6. Facing two match points, he saved the first with a forehand winner but Nadal sealed the deal on the second after a forehand down the line winner, lifting his first big title and sending a clear sign he would be the player to beat in the rest of that clay season and for the next 15 years!