Shanghai Flashback: Rafael Nadal loses title to Nikolay Davydenko

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Shanghai Flashback: Rafael Nadal loses title to Nikolay Davydenko

The Masters 1000 series suffered the first significant changes in years in 2009. Hamburg lost its top status, and Madrid moved from an indoor hard event to the spring schedule and clay. Staged at the beautiful Qizhong Tennis Center, Shanghai became the penultimate Masters 1000 tournament in the calendar and drew instant success.

World no. 1 Roger Federer and world no. 3 Andy Murray decided to skip the inaugural Shanghai event. Still, the other top-10 players were there to fight for the title, with five of them reaching the quarter-final. The top seed Rafael Nadal had to win two full matches to reach the final, with Ivan Ljubicic and Feliciano Lopez retiring against him in the quarters and the semis.

Nikolay Davydenko stood as the last rival between Rafa and the title. The Russian prevailed against Novak Djokovic after over three hours in the semi-final, taking the deciding tie break 7-1 for his third Masters 1000 final.

Davydenko had won the previous two title matches at this level. He kept a perfect score after toppling the Spaniard 7-6, 6-3 in two hours and three minutes, becoming the first champion in Shanghai. It was their seventh meeting, the fifth at the Masters 1000 level.

Nikolay claimed his third win over Rafa, preventing the Spaniard from winning the title he was missing in his collection, like in Miami 2008. Davydenko won 11 points more than Nadal and played better on the first and second serve.

He delivered the aggression that kept the rallies on his racquet and reduced Rafa to under ten winners! The Russian was one of the rare players who could outplay Rafa in the more extended baseline exchanges. He showed that again in this encounter, dominating the most intense rallies while staying in touch in the shortest ones to secure the straight-sets triumph.

Nikolay Davydenko defeated Rafael Nadal in straight sets in Shanghai 2009.

Nadal did his best to cross the finish line first. He did an excellent job in saving five out of seven break chances and reaching the opening set tie break.

However, the Spaniard stole Davydenko's serve only once from four opportunities to plague his chances. Nikolay found the range right from the start and created three break points in the third game with his trademark backhand volley winner.

He converted the third with a forehand drive volley winner to draw first blood and move 2-1 ahead. Another forehand winner pushed him 3-1 up, and Nadal responded with a great hold in the next game, hitting a service winner to bring it home at love.

The Russian was on a different level in the first part of the clash. He dominated and created two additional break points in game seven that could have pushed him further in front. Rafa stayed focused and won the following four points to repel the danger and reduce the deficit to 4-3 with a much-needed service winner.

The Spaniard had hit just 6% of the balls from inside the court up to that moment, unable to impose his strokes and change the rhythm. On the other hand, that number was at 37% in Davydenko's case, as the Russian took the ball flat and early.

Nadal had to do something more on the return and rather quickly. He broke back in the eighth game when Davydenko sent a forehand long and held in the next one with a volley winner to move back in front. The momentum was on Nadal's side now, earning a set point in the tenth game.

Nikolay denied it with a smash winner and held after Rafa's forehand error to level the score at 5-5. The set went into a tie break after Davydenko's ace in game 12, and he had the upper hand, creating three set points at 6-3 after Nadal's loose forehand.

The Russian dominated the next rally and used the rival's first short ball to attack and close the set with a backhand winner after 75 minutes of a grueling battle. Nadal's backhand was under constant pressure, as Davydenko landed 90% of his returns to his opponent's right wing in the opening set, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the match.

Nonetheless, Rafa had a chance to make the first strike in set number two, creating a break opportunity but squandering it after a poor return. Nikolay held after another service winner, and we could notice he was more and more aggressive, hitting over half of the balls from inside the court in the rallies!

He broke Rafa at 15 in the sixth game after forcing the Spaniard's backhand error and moved 5-2 in front after a brilliant backhand crosscourt winner. Serving for the triumph at 5-3, Nikolay landed three winners to secure the title, outplaying Rafa and becoming a deserved champion of the inaugural Shanghai Masters.