Rafael Nadal recalls one of the most challenging matches from his teenage years
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 2788
Competing in his third consecutive Masters 1000 final in Rome 2005, an 18-year-old Spanish star Rafael Nadal toppled Guillermo Coria 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 in five hours and 14 minutes! It was the longest ATP final in the Open era at that time and one of the most remarkable triumphs in the 20-time Major champion's career after refusing to give up in the last set.
It is hard to describe the level of tennis these two produced during this excellent encounter, pushing each other to the limits and constantly 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, with two of the finest clay-courters covering the court fluently and efficiently and keeping the ball on the forehand wing as much as possible.
The winner had to emerge from the ultimate baseline clash, with almost 100 points reaching the ten-shot mark! Despite his fantastic defense skills, Coria knew he had to find a different approach to overpower a teenager. The Argentine tried to impose his shots and break Nadal's rhythm with drop shots, net rushings and risky strokes that would give him the edge in the exchanges.
Guillermo was more successful in the shortest points, but Nadal would gain the more dramatic rallies to emerge as a winner and grab his second Masters 1000 title in a row after Monte Carlo. There were colossal 37 break chances in total, with nine breaks of serve on each side and a massive opportunity for Guillermo to cross the finish line in the decider after standing a point away from a 4-0.
Rafa managed to bounce back and win a tie break 8-6, celebrating the biggest title in a career on his Rome debut and gaining a massive boost ahead of Roland Garros. Coria drew first blood in game five, and Nadal had to work hard for every point, fending off a break chance in game seven to avoid a double break deficit and keeping himself in contention.
That became even more important when he broke back a few minutes later with a rare backhand winner to level the score at 4-4 and gain momentum. The Spaniard's forehand started to work better, as he held in game nine with a winner from that wing and fired another while returning to steal the set 6-4!
The youngster wasted a game point in the second set's third game, and Coria broke him with a forehand drop shot winner to forge a 3-1 advantage with a solid hold. Rafa erased the deficit with a break in game six but Guillermo stayed composed and seized another break that gave him the necessary boost that drove him towards the set when Nadal gifted his serve at 3-5.
Rafael Nadal claimed the first Rome title in 2005 following an epic final vs. Coria.
Rafa controlled the pace at the beginning of the third set and opened a 4-0 lead before getting broken while serving at 5-2. The ninth game was the longest of the match, and Nadal seized another break to seal the set 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 chance but was denied after a backhand forced error that allowing Coria to take the set with a service winner after over an 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 on the Tour in the previous two or three decades. Guillermo was the better player on the court and 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 came alive again to fend them off and pull one break back with a drop shot winner. Coria netted a forehand in game six, and his early lead was done and dusted after falling 4-3 behind. The pivotal moment came in game nine when Nadal saved a break chance with a backhand slice winner that landed on the line and hit a forehand winner to bring another game home.
Guillermo faced a match point at 5-6, saving it with a superb forehand attack and setting up a tie break after a magnificent lob winner when the clock showed a five-hour mark! The Spaniard won five out of six points to create a 5-1 gap, gaining two more match points after the Argentine's huge forehand miss in the tenth point.
To make things even more dramatic, Coria staved off both to level the score at 6-6. However, Nadal wasn't denied, earning the fourth match point after a smash that Guillermo could only return into the net and moving over the finish line thanks to his opponent's volley error.
"I'm thrilled; it's my second Masters 1000 title, and I played one of the toughest encounters of my life. I don't know where I found the energy to come back from 3-0 down in the decider. The crowd was behind me, which gave me an extra boost that helped me make a comeback.
I was a bit nervous at 6-5 in the match tie break, hitting that double fault but staying focused to win the next two points. The fifth set felt like a Davis Cup against one of the world's best clay-courters," Rafael Nadal said.