Rafael Nadal had competed in Rome for the first time in 2005 and it was love at first sight between the powerful teenager and the Eternal city, conquering the title after an epic win over Guillermo Coria in the final. A year later, Rafa was the last man standing in Rome too, beating Roger Federer in one of the greatest matches of all time (it took him ten hours and 19 minutes to beat Guillermo and Roger in those finals) and going all the way in 2007 as well to increase the winning streak in Rome to 17 matches.
His perfect run had to end in 2008, though, losing in the second round against the 2001 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 54 minutes, suffering only the second loss in the last 105 matches on clay, starting from Monte Carlo 2005!
As we know, Juan Carlos would lose in the very next round to Stan Wawrinka and it is fair to say that Nadal's injury was the main reason he failed to continue his fantastic run on clay. Namely, Rafa had to put special protection on his foot to even appear on the court that Wednesday, having to deal with a blister for a few days.
This was their fifth meeting and the first win for the older Spaniard who won just one set in the previous encounters against Nadal. Ferrero saved all five break points he faced in this match and had to work hard to beat the youngster who was far from his best but still managed to keep him on the court for almost two hours before having to accept the defeat (Rafa would win Hamburg a week later, beating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer).
Ferrero was the first who faced troubles on serve, saving a break point in game three with a smash winner and another one with a backhand crosscourt winner, bringing the game home when Rafa sent a backhand long. Nadal also saved a break point in game four to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard and had a colossal chance to move in front in game nine, with three break points up for grabs.
He made three forehands errors (two unforced) to waste his opportunity and was forced to save a set point in the tenth game to prolong the opening set that already lasted for more than an hour. Juan Carlos finally grabbed the break in the 12th game to take the opener 7-5 after 75 minutes of grueling battle following a backhand crosscourt winner.
Nadal talked to a doctor in the pause between two sets and didn't have much left in the tank before the start of set number two. Ferrero broke him in the fourth game and that marked the beginning of the end for a three-time defending champion who found himself 4-1 down after a forehand winner from Juan Carlos in game five.
That blister on Nadal's right foot looked painful even for us who watched the match on the TV although he refused to retire, losing serve once again in game six after a medical timeout to send Ferrero 5-1 in front. Juan Carlos sealed the deal with three winners in game seven to celebrate one of his best wins in recent years, failing to lift an ATP trophy since 2003.