On this day: David Nalbandian downs Roger Federer in epic Shanghai clash


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On this day: David Nalbandian downs Roger Federer in epic Shanghai clash

After a historic 2004 season, Roger Federer was hungry for more in 2005 as well, winning 11 ATP titles just like Rafael Nadal and finishing with an 81-4 score to confirm world no. 1 status for the second consecutive season.

Before the year-ending clash in the final of the Masters Cup in Shanghai, Roger was on the verge of repeating what John McEnroe did in his glorious 1984 season (82-3) but just fell short, losing to David Nalbandian 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 in four hours and 33 minutes in one of the most thrilling title matches at this event!

Roger struggled with an injury and David won ten games in a row to open up a 4-0 lead in the decider before the Swiss bounced back to stay competitive until the very last point, losing the deciding tie break (the first at this tournament since 1988) and breaking his amazing 35-win streak that started in June in Halle!

Federer was the player to beat outside clay that season despite competing at only 15 tournaments (he was sidelined for six weeks before Shanghai due to a right ankle injury), overcoming a tough defeat to Marat Safin in Melbourne to dominate in the next ten months and stay ahead of Nadal and other rivals.

Still, he couldn't go all the way in the last ever Masters Cup final on an indoor carpet surface, moving through the plagued field (Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were all forced to withdraw before or during the event) before losing to Nalbandian in one of the most entertaining encounters of the season on November 20, missing a chance to become the first player since Ivan Lendl with three consecutive Masters Cup crowns.

After winning the crucial points in the opening two sets, Federer started to struggle more and more, receiving a left thigh treatment after the third game of the fourth set, unable to move like he would have wanted in the next 30 minutes before giving the crowd something to cheer about and barely missing a chance to complete an incredible turnaround.

Nalbandian grabbed 11 breaks from 15 opportunities, numbers you can't see that often against Roger Federer, fending off 14 out of 20 break chances to cross the finish line first. There were 386 points overall and Roger had more service winners and forehand winners, with David who took charge with his backhand and volleys to stay competitive.

The Argentine managed to tame his shots more efficiently, spraying some 20 unforced errors fewer than Roger, another element that delivered the title for him in the end. Nalbandian stayed in touch with Roger in the shortest points, which was extremely important, having a clear advantage in the mid-range and most extended rallies, moving his rival around the court with well-placed groundstrokes and constructing the points in the way to take the rhythm away from Federer.

The outsider opened the clash with a break, forcing an error from Roger with a backhand down the line to gain early momentum. The Swiss pulled the break back in the very next game and moved 4-2 up after an amazing forehand crosscourt winner in game six, only to lose the advantage in the next game after a drop shot winner from Nalbandian who erased the deficit to stay in touch.

Serving to prolong the set at 5-6, David brought the game home with a backhand winner to set up a tie break that Roger won 7-4 after a lucky net cord return winner, moving ahead in just under an hour. Nalbandian was the first to make a bad move in set number two, sending a forehand error at 2-2 to push Roger ahead, wasting a break chance in the next game to find himself 4-2 down.

Federer played a terrible service game at 4-3, hitting one loose shot after another to get broken and squandering two break points in game 11 to serve for staying in the set at 5-6. He did that with a perfect drop shot to secure another tie break where he saved three set points to steal the breaker 13-11 and forge a massive advantage before the rest of the clash, using the fact that Nalbandian got robbed while leading 5-3.

David was there to compete, earning an early break in the third set and clinching another one at 4-2 after a backhand down the line to extend the advantage. In one of the longest games of the match, the Argentine saved three break points in the next game, securing the set 6-2 and keeping his chances alive against the rival who had struggled in the last half an hour or so.

Nalbandian was the only player on the court in the fourth set, winning six straight games to wrap it up in just over 30 minutes and playing in the same style in set number five to open up a 4-0 lead after rattling off ten straight games!

Out of sudden, Federer found the way to get back on the scoreboard, firing a forehand down the line winner to reduce the deficit to 4-3 and creating what could have been a crucial break chance in the 11th game. He converted it to come just a game away from the title but it wasn't to be for him, losing serve in the next game after a backhand down the line winner from Nalbandian who claimed the deciding tie break 7-3 after a forehand error from Roger to cross the finish line and lift the biggest title of his career.

David became only the second Argentine player with the Masters Cup title after Guillermo Vilas 31 years ago, standing as the last champion of this event in the best-of-five final and on the carpet surface.