On this day: Rafael Nadal wins historic Rome final against Guillermo Coria


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On this day: Rafael Nadal wins historic Rome final against Guillermo Coria

Rafael Nadal was just 18 and a half years old when 2005 season started and was the only player who could have dealt with Roger Federer's pace in the first four months, lifting four titles on clay and losing an epic Miami final to Roger in five sets.

Rafa won the first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, followed by a triumph in Barcelona a week later, then taking seven days off and traveling to Rome as the top-10 player for the first time! There, the young Spaniard defeated five rivals to set up a final meeting against Guillermo Coria on May 8 (he ousted the Argentinian in Monte Carlo final as well), claiming an epic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 triumph in five hours and 14 minutes, in what had been the longest ATP final in the Open era at that moment!

It is hard to describe the level of tennis these two had produced during this excellent encounter, pushing each other to the limits all the time and forcing that extra shot in the rally from the other side of the net in a ruthless baseline battle.

The Centre Court at Foro Italico had never witnessed a contest like this before (it would again just 12 months later), with two of the finest clay courters at that moment giving their best for every point, covering the court in a fluent and efficient way and keeping the ball on the forehand wing as much as possible.

We saw four aces in the entire match and the winner had to be decided in the ultimate baseline clash, with almost 100 points reaching the ten-shot mark! Despite his amazing defense skills, Coria knew he had to find a different approach to overpower a teenager, trying to impose his shots and break Nadal's rhythm with drop shots, net rushings and more risky shots that potentially would have given him the edge in the exchanges.

The Argentinian was more successful in the shortest points but Nadal would gain the advantage in the more dramatic rallies to emerges as a winner and grab his second Masters 1000 title in a row. There were 37 break points in total, with nine breaks of serve on each side, and it was Guillermo who was closer to the finish line in the decider, standing a point away from a 4-0 lead that would have broken Nadal's resistance.

Nonetheless, Rafa managed to bounce back and win a tie break 8-6, celebrating his biggest title in a career and gaining a massive boost for the upcoming Roland Garros where he would also conquer the field to become a Grand Slam champion.

Coria drew first blood in game five when Nadal missed a backhand and cemented the lead with a backhand drive-volley winner in the next game. Nadal had to work hard for every point and saved a break point in game seven to avoid a double break deficit, keeping himself in contention at 3-4 down.

That became even more important when he broke back in the next game with a rare backhand winner, leveling the score at 4-4 and gaining the momentum before the closing moments of the opener. His forehand started to work better and he held in game nine with a winner from that wing, firing another one while returning in game ten to steal the set 6-4 after taking four games in a row!

The youngster wasted a game point in the third game of set number two and Coria found the way to break him with a forehand drop shot winner, forging a 3-1 advantage with a solid hold in game four. Rafa was ready to strike back, erasing the deficit with a break in game six thanks to a forehand winner, eager to repeat what he did in the opening set.

Guillermo stayed composed and seized another break in game seven that gave him the necessary boost that drove him towards the set when Nadal gifted his serve in the ninth game as well. Rafa controlled the pace at the beginning of the third set, turning the screw to open a 4-0 gap and serving for the set at 5-2.

He couldn't sail through his service games without problems, though, allowing Coria to break back and prolong the set and his chances. The ninth game was the longest of the match and Rafa clutched another break, converting the eighth chance to seal it 6-3 and move closer to the finish line.

The Spaniard struggled with blisters on his left hand and Guillermo broke with a forehand winner in game five to open his second lead in the fourth set, serving to send the encounter into a deciding set at 5-4. Nadal created a break point but was denied after a backhand forced error, letting Coria clinch the set with a service winner after more than one hour.

The best was yet to come in the next hour and a half, though, with the final set turning out to be one of the most memorable ones we had the opportunity to see on the Tour in the last 20 years or so. Guillermo was the better player on the court at the moment and he raced into a 3-0 lead when Nadal netted an easy forehand, with two game points for what could have been a crucial 4-0 advantage.

The warrior inside Rafa had come alive again, fending them off to pull one break back with a drop shot winner. Coria netted a forehand in game six and his early lead was done and dusted, falling 4-3 behind when Rafa held in game seven.

The pivotal moment came in game nine when Nadal saved a break point with a backhand slice winner that landed on the line, hitting a forehand winner to bring another game home and keep the pressure on his rival. Guillermo faced a match point in game 12, saving it with a great forehand attack and setting up a tie break after magnificent lob winner just when the clock showed five-hour mark!

The Spaniard won five out of six points to create a 5-1 gap and gained two more match points after a huge forehand miss from the Argentinian in the tenth point. To make things even more dramatic, Coria staved off both to level the score at 6-6 although Nadal was not to be denied, earning the fourth match point after a smash that Guillermo could have only returned into the net and moving over the finish line when Guillermo's volley landed long in the next point.