Back in 2005, Rafael Nadal became the world's most excellent player on clay, winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros to establish his supremacy and mold the path towards the greatest ever on the slowest surface.
In the upcoming years, Rafa was the dominant factor between April and June, rattling off one big event on clay after another and waiting to prove his quality once again in 2010 after suffering a shocking loss to Robin Soderling at Roland Garros a year earlier.
Returning in full glory, Nadal conquered Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid that spring to write new pages of tennis history as the first player who captured all three Masters 1000 titles on clay in a single season. After an unprecedented run in Monte Carlo that left all the rivals miles behind him, Nadal won Rome and took a week off before Madrid where he pursued the first title in Caja Magica, losing in the title match a year ago to Roger Federer.
Unlike that marathon against Novak Djokovic in the semis 12 months earlier, there was nothing that would stop the Spaniard en route to the trophy, securing the 39th ATP title and the 18th at the Masters 1000 level. Thus, he moved in front of Andre Agassi to become the Masters 1000 record holder at the age of 23, beating Roger Federer 6-4, 7-6 in the title match on May 16.
Rafa didn't lose serve against Alexandr Dolgopolov, John Isner and Gael Monfils, struggling a little bit against Nicolas Almagro in the semis before establishing the order in sets two and three to book the 21st meeting against Roger, the first in a year.
Nadal earned the 14th triumph over the most significant rival in two hours and 11 minutes, taking only one point more than Federer in a mighty close encounter that could have gone to each side. Both opponents created 11 break chances in what wasn't the best day for the servers (they both lost more than 40% of the points behind the initial shot), with Nadal securing four breaks and losing serve three times to cross the finish line first and claim two outstanding records.
Roger had more winners but also more unforced errors, the usual price for his aggression against Rafa and determination to keep the points on his racquet and avoid longer rallies. Interestingly, the Swiss had the upper hand in those most extended exchanges, together with the shortest ones as well, with Nadal erasing the deficit in the mid-range rallies that moved him over the top and helped him to seal the deal in straight sets.
Federer kicked off the clash with a hold at love after an ace, creating a break chance in game two but wasting it after a good serve from Nadal who held when Roger sent a backhand long. It was the Spaniard's turn to make damage on the return in game three, converting the third break chance after a backhand mistake from Federer to move 2-1 up and open the first lead.
Ready to fight for every point, Roger broke back at 15 in the next game when Nadal's forehand landed beyond the baseline, although he had to chase the result again following a break for the home star in game seven when he seized the fifth chance.
A forehand down the line winner pushed Nadal 5-3 in front, serving for the set at 5-4 when he experienced troubles behind the initial shot thanks to a double fault. Federer squandered two break opportunities with groundstroke errors from both wings but created the third one with a smash winner, giving his everything to prolong the set.
Rafa repelled it with a good serve to Roger's backhand and had to play against another break chance after a loose backhand. Once again, serve got him out of troubles and the set was in his hands following a forehand crosscourt winner for a 6-4 after challenging 55 minutes and 15 break points overall!
With the momentum on his side, Nadal broke in the very first game of the second set as well but that didn't last for long, with Federer pulling the break back in the very next game after a bullet from his backhand. Rafa moved ahead once again at 2-2, hitting three marvelous backhand winners in a row to forge another lead and cement it with a solid hold for a 4-2.
With no time to waste, Roger broke back in game eight after a loose forehand from Nadal, surviving two deuces at 5-5 to defend his service fame and set up a tie break, a must-win one for him. A beautiful drop shot winner pushed Roger 4-2 up before spraying three terrible groundstroke errors that gave Rafa the advantage, with the Spaniard sealing the deal after a return winner at 6-5 when Federer missed the ball entirely after a bad bounce.