When Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer and completed clay-court Masters 1000 crowns

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When Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer and completed clay-court Masters 1000 crowns

Since 2005, Rafael Nadal has been the dominant figure on clay, winning most big titles and establishing domination in Monte Carlo, Rome and Roland Garros. With his eyes set on those three tournaments, Nadal had to sacrifice the third Masters 1000 event on clay in Hamburg, playing it in 2003 at 16 and missing the next three editions.

In 2007, Roger Federer defeated him in the final, and Nadal had only one more chance to celebrate in Germany, with Hamburg losing the status of Masters 1000 event from 2009. The mighty Spaniard had lost some tight battles on hard court in the first three months of the 2008 season.

He was back at his best on his beloved surface, conquering Monte Carlo and Barcelona before an early loss in Rome due to severe blisters. Rafa used the next couple of days to rest and decided to try to win Hamburg. He defeated Potito Starace, Andy Murray and Carlos Moya in straight sets to set the semi-final clash against Novak Djokovic.

The Spaniard prevailed over the Serb after three hours and three minutes of an epic battle. Like in 2007, Roger Federer stood on the other side of the net in the final, hoping to defend the crown and claim the fifth Masters 1000 title in Hamburg since 2002.

Despite losing a lot of energy against Djokovic, Nadal was ready for another stern test the next day. He overpowered Roger 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 in two hours and 52 minutes to become only the third player with all three different Masters 1000 titles on clay after Marcelo Rios and Gustavo Kuerten.

It was already the 11th Masters 1000 crown for the 21-year-old Spaniard, matching Pete Sampras and marching towards the record-holder Andre Agassi, who was the leader with 17. Like in Monte Carlo a few weeks earlier, Federer gave his best to stay in touch with the most significant rival.

They pushed each other to the limits in the opening two sets before Rafa found the winning formula in the decider for the tenth win over Roger in 16 encounters and the eighth in nine matches on clay. After nearly three hours, Nadal won just seven points more than Roger, reducing the number of errors and standing not far behind the Swiss in the winners department to cross the finish line first.

He created 17 break chances and converted six to make the difference. On the other hand, Federer grabbed four breaks, which was enough to keep him safe only in the first two sets, unable to match Nadal's level in the decider.

The defending champion had the edge in the shortest rallies up to four strokes. Still, the points were on Rafa's racquet once they would get more extended, with the Spaniard controlling the mid-range and most prolonged exchanges to forge the win and write history.

Roger continued where he left off in the last year's final when he won the third set 6-0, breaking in game two after Nadal's double fault. The Spaniard's forehand error pushed the Swiss 3-0 up after 11 minutes before Rafa finally got his name on the scoreboard with a service winner in game four.

Rafael Nadal claimed the first Hamburg Masters 1000 title in 2008.

Nadal created a break chance in the next one, and Federer denied it to bring it home and open a 4-1 gap with an ace. Rafa was far from his best, and he suffered another break in game six to fall 5-1 behind after 27 minutes and find himself with a lot of work to be done.

Roger squandered a set point in game seven and got broken after a weak volley. The Swiss earned another set point on the return at 5-2, and the Spaniard erased it with a forehand winner and fired another to bring the game home.

Returning at 3-5, Nadal painted a forehand crosscourt winner to pull the second break back and get on the positive side of the scoreboard for the first time. The Spaniard held in game ten and broke the rival for the third straight time at 5-5 after Federer's forehand mistake.

Thus, Rafa moved in front and fired a service winner in game 12 to claim it 7-5 after precisely an hour, rattling off six straight games and gathering a massive boost. With momentum on his side, Nadal fired a forehand winner at the beginning of the second set to deliver his fourth break in a row and open a set and a break advantage.

Federer broke back in game two and defended two break chances in the next one with four quick points to take the lead. Roger broke Rafa in game four to open a 3-1 advantage and improve his chances. The Swiss held with a service winner to increase the lead and repeated that at 4-2 to move closer to the set.

Like in the opener, Federer lacked one last push at 5-3 and got broken after Nadal's beautiful backhand crosscourt winner. Rafa locked the result at 5-5 and created three break chances in the next one. Roger stayed calm and erased them with service winners before bringing the game home with a volley winner.

Nadal held at 5-6 in style to introduce a tie break, but he failed to seal the deal in straight sets. Federer claimed it 7-3 to force a decider and improve his chances after two hours and four minutes. Leaving the previous set behind him, Rafa delivered two easy holds at the beginning of the decider and secured a break in game four after Roger's backhand error for 3-1.

Another loose forehand from the Swiss pushed the Spaniard further in front, and he had more chances to break Roger's resistance after a smash winner in game six. Federer erased three break chances (a beautiful volley winner on the third) and closed the game with another good volley to stay within one break deficit.

Roger created a break point in the next one, but Rafa saved it with a well-constructed attack to open a 5-2 gap. The Spaniard crossed the finish line with four winners in game nine, celebrating the first Hamburg title and a place in the history books at such a young age.