In 2005, Rafael Nadal became a Major and Masters 1000 champion, winning 11 titles and beating everyone on the ATP ranking list except Roger Federer. In 2006 and 2007, Nadal remained the second-strongest link on the Tour, improving his game off the clay and reaching two Wimbledon finals.
Poised to challenge Roger for the ATP throne, Nadal got off to a solid start to the 2008 season and exploded once it was clay's turn. Between Monte Carlo and Toronto, the Spaniard would win seven titles from eight tournaments, including two Majors and three Masters 1000s that brought him closer than ever to Roger Federer.
Two weeks after that epic Wimbledon final, Rafa embraced the Canadian Open campaign, seeking his first title at this event since 2005. The Spaniard beat Jesse Levine, Igor Andreev, Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray to reach the final, with great chances of getting the title.
Two years before retiring, Nicolas Kiefer advanced to his first Masters 1000 title matchup after beating Mardy Fish, Mikhail Youzhny, Nikolay Davydenko, James Blake and Gilles Simon. The German battled for three hours against Simon in the semi-finals.
He didn't have much left in the tank for a fit Nadal, who beat him 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and a half. Rafa lost 14 points in eight service games and rejected the three break chances he had to put pressure on the opponent. Kiefer barely lost a point on the first serve, but served just 47% to plague his chances.
He had problems with the second serve and was broken four times out of as many chances offered by Nadal. The Spaniard controlled his blows well and had a big advantage in the longer exchanges. He took 19 of 22 to forge victory and move ahead of Pete Sampras, who went on to win 11 Masters 1000 titles.
Nadal got a break at 15 at 2-2 in the first game and held it with ease to confirm the lead and establish a good rhythm. The youngster closed out the eighth game with an ace and collected four straight points on the return in the next to take the first set 6-3.
Rafa Nadal has not shone Cincy
American teenager Ben Shelton is the latest player to speak about his admiration for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “I definitely looked up to Federer. Nadal is the clear choice because I'm a lefty, as well.
I liked kind of the classiness of Fed, the aura around him and the way he carries himself on court in victory and defeat,” he said. “He was kind of like a good role model on the court, off the court, how he handled the press, just a class act. I definitely enjoyed watching him play tennis growing up,” he added.