On this day: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battle on clay-grass court



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On this day: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battle on clay-grass court

Back in the spring of 2007, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had been the best players in the world for almost two years, competing on a different level in comparison to all the others and dominating on their favorite surfaces like only a few before them.

Nadal hadn't lost on clay for surreal 72 matches (Roger would end that streak in Hamburg final two weeks later) while Federer won 48 consecutive encounters on grass since Mario Ancic took him down at Wimbledon 2002. With these numbers in mind, the idea emerged to see these two outstanding rivals in an unseen type of an exhibition match, set for May 2, at Palma Arena in Palma de Mallorca, Nadal's home island.

It took 19 days and $1.63 million to create the court that was never seen before, containing grass on the one half and clay on the other! After two hours and 29 minutes of entertaining battle, Nadal prevailed 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(10), saving two match points in the tie break to emerge as a winner.

It was a fascinating clash, both in terms of the result and due to the fact they had to change the shoes in the pauses between the games (lasting two minutes so they can have enough time) regarding the part of the court they were playing next.

Nadal made a comfortable hold in the first game while hitting from the clay court (it was easier to control the ball and to attack the rival who had less time for reaction on the grass side) and Roger had to save break points already in his first service game despite playing on clay side too.

Returning from the clay side in game four, Nadal broke with a beautiful backhand down the line winner to open up a 3-1 lead and held from the same side of the court to extend the lead after just 20 minutes. Roger managed to pull the break back in game seven while using the advantages of the clay court and there were no more breaks until game 12 when the Swiss served to stay in the set, from the grass court.

Nadal played a fantastic game, breaking Roger at love to take the opener 7-5 in 44 minutes, sealing the deal with a forehand crosscourt winner. Federer forged the lead at the beginning of the second set while returning from the grass court and found a nice rhythm from both sides to stay in front all the time, sealing the set with a hold at love from clay in game ten and sending the match into a decider after an hour and 22 minutes.

He was the better player now, his serve was more dangerous and also had the upper hand from the baseline to keep the pressure on Rafa. The Spaniard opened the final set with a much-needed hold from the grass side of the court and broke in game four after an easy volley mistake from Roger at the net.

The Swiss broke back immediately to reduce the deficit to 3-2 and saved a break point in game six with a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner to stay in contention. Both players served well in the remaining games to set up a tie break, the best possible way to end this fantastic and unique match.

Federer had a 4-2 lead before Nadal came back to 5-5 to heat the drama and keep the crowd on the edge of their seats. A tremendous passing forehand gave Nadal the first match point but he double faulted to waste the opportunity, allowing Roger to stay in contention for at least two more points.

A service winner gave Rafa another match point although Federer was not to be denied that easily, firing a service winner of his own to make the result even at 7-7. The Swiss star took the next point as well for his match point, spraying a backhand error to waste it.

Roger saved another match point with a solid serve&volley combo and earned his second at 10-9. It was Nadal's turn to show his clutch, fending it off with a brave attack and seizing the fourth match point when Roger failed to pick up the ball from bad bounce on grass, taking the tie break 12-10 to celebrate the win in front of the home crowd in what was a memorable day of tennis for both players.