The Madrid Masters switched to clay in 2009, gathering the world's best players in Caja Magica. Rafael Nadal was the top favorite, alongside Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who joined him in the semi-final. In one of the most thrilling best-of-three matches in the Open era, Nadal toppled Djokovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in over four hours to set the title clash against Federer.
Rafa gave his best to recover in such a short time. Still, Federer took advantage of the circumstances and claimed a 6-4, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 26 minutes to become the first Madrid champion in Caja Magica on the red surface.
It was a significant victory for the Swiss, who started losing ground in the previous months after being defeated by his biggest rivals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome. Roger's plan was simple, as he tried to keep the points as short as possible on the fast Madrid clay and avoid long rallies and the pressure on his backhand.
Federer won just five points more than tired Rafa. He repelled all four break chances and seized both return opportunities to emerge as a champion and beat Nadal for the second time in 11 matches on clay. Also, the Swiss finally broke the Spaniard's streak of five wins in a row, all in notable finals, including Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
It was only the fifth loss for Rafa on clay in the last 155 matches and the first after 33 straight victories, losing to Roger for the fifth time in 16 ATP finals they had played up to that point.
Rafael Nadal lost the Madrid Open final to Roger Federer in 2009.
That semi-final clash against Novak took a lot from Nadal, but he was there to fight for every point.
He created a break chance in the opener's second game that Roger saved with a service winner to avoid an early setback. The Spaniard was the better player on the court in the first six games, holding with ease and creating another break chance at 3-2 that could have sent him in front.
Federer fended it off with a powerful forehand attack and leveled the score at 3-3 with two winners to stay in touch. The Swiss made a massive step towards the opening set in game nine, creating a break chance with a forehand winner and converting it when Rafa netted a backhand to move 5-4 up and serve for the set.
Carried by this momentum, Federer held at love with a service winner to clinch the opening set 6-4 after 40 minutes, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter. The Swiss was a more aggressive player on the court, defending the second serve efficiently before seizing the only chance on the return to make the difference.
Nadal kept fighting and held at love twice at the start of the second set. Still, a completely different outcome awaited at 2-2. Roger created a break opportunity with a backhand drop shot winner, and Rafa sealed his fate when his forehand landed long, allowing Federer to move 3-2 ahead and control the scoreboard.
Roger cemented the break with a service winner and opened a 5-3 gap with another unreturned serve in game eight, moving closer to the finish line. Nadal reduced the deficit after deuce in game nine, and Roger was now serving for the title at 5-4.
The persistent Spaniard gained two break chances that could have changed the match entirely if he had converted one. It was not to be for him, though, as he wasted the first with an open backhand that landed wide and the second when Roger forced an error.
Rafa saved the first match point, but Roger blasted an ace on his second to bring the encounter home and lift the 15th Masters 1000 trophy, the first since Cincinnati 2007 and the fifth on clay.