Rogers Cup 2005: when Rafa Nadal took his hardcourt title

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Rogers Cup 2005: when Rafa Nadal took his hardcourt title

Nadal wanted to battle Agassi before the American retired. Agassi replied that he was the one who wanted to take on Nadal before Nadal retired. The American, used to those kinds of statements, would face the new Spanish sensation in the Rogers Cup final in 2005.

It was a transcendent match, a passage of time. One year earlier, ranked world no. 62, Nadal made his first Rogers Cup appearance and fell to Lleyton Hewitt in the first round. The future King of Clay arrived in Montreal one year later with eight titles in hand: Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Bastad, Stuttgart and his very first French Open, all on his preferred surface.

“I want to win one on hard. I will win one on hard” he promised. His first match wasn't an easy one, but he preferred to learn that the hard way. He needed three sets to down fellow Spaniard, friend and former world No.

1 Carlos Moya. "We practice always together in Mallorca, no? We have the very good relation. Is my best friend on the tour. I don't know. I know him -- I knew him five years before. We practice a lot of time. We know all about the game" he said in a laugher.

"He helps me a lot because when I was not professional, I can practice with a very good player, with a top 10 player, and that's very important [to improve] my level. And, I don't know, is possible I help him with the motivation because I am young and he watches me, and that's important to him, too".

Nadal lost 7-0 the second set tiebreak and converted two of 15 break point opportunities. Against his friend, he faced a tough three-set contest but managed to stage a 6-3 6-7(0) 6-3 victory. "I am too young. I want [to] improve a lot of things in my game.

I always say the most important thing is the illusion, the humble, and to improve every day. So I need improve a lot of things in my game and I am working about that" Nadal said. Seeded first, a position left vacant by Federer’s absence, he beat Ricardo Mello and Sébastien Grosjean to seal his second Masters Series quarterfinals on hard courts.

At Roland Garros, that year, Nadal had accused Grosjean to be an agent provocateur in a tough and controversial fourth-round clash spread over two days due to rain and bad light. The crowd held up the play for over five minutes whistling and jeering after a contested call.

"Today I think it has been a tough match" Nadal explained. "In the beginning, he went 1-0, 15-40. In the second set, he has a breakpoint, in the beginning, I think, too. And I don't know, I think I have the break all the time in the third game.

That's important for the confidence in the rest of the game. I'm very happy because in this tournament I think I never lost my serve. That's new to me". In the quarter-finals, Nadal experienced a second déjà-vu as he met Mariano Puerta, the opponent in his maiden final at Roland Garros, the Argentine that saw the glory of the coming of the King of Clay.

He began moving Puerta from the opening stages and directed his forehand to the Argentine's backhand. "I think I have a perfect match today for that tactic," said Nadal, who won in straight sets. The Spaniard had a clear goal for the 2005 season, finish the year ranked No.2.

And, he added, "improve my game because I am young and I need to improve every day". More consistent on serve, Nadal finished the quarter-final clash having held 42 consecutive games in the tournament: a career best at the time.

That was his 63rd match win on the season, the most by any teenager since Andre Agassi who won 63 back in 1988. Facing Agassi in the title match was a dream, Nadal confessed before the tournament. The dream came through as he moved another step closer to his first career hard-court title by defeating Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 7-5.

He served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and got a little bit nervous. Mathieu broke him at love but he lost his serve in the next game. “The important thing is that I got the win against a player that has been playing very good.

I’m very happy to be in my fourth Masters Series final" said Nadal, improving his ATP-best record to 64-8 so far that season, including 15-4 on hard courts. Andre Agassi beat Greg Rusedski 6-4 6-4, bidding for his fourth Canadian crown after he won previously in Montreal in 1992, 1994 and 1995.

“I’m looking forward to this match,” Agassi said. “To watch him play over the last few years has been enjoyable... what he means to the game and how he carries himself. I’ll have the best seat in the house.” Nadal recognized the significance of their meeting, too.

“I am very happy because I’ll play against one of the best players in history,” he said through Reuters. Agassi wore simple white shorts and a blue shirt. The fiercely competitive and charismatic Nadal went on court with his white Capri pants and a tee shirt with cutoff sleeves.

From the opening stages, Agassi had to accept the idea of hitting extra shots over and over again while Nadal used to send tough down the line forehands before moving to the net and seal the point with a rebellious swinging volley.

Nadal's serve, Agassi stated, was tougher to return than it appeared watching him on tv. "It looks like he just rolls that serve in. It looks like you should be able to hit it pretty effectively" Agassi said. "But it is a lefty action with sort of a slice sometimes kick to it.

So the ball's moving around a bit. If you don't hit it square, you leave anything hanging, and that's where he's really dangerous. So it's not so much that you can't stand up on the serve as much as if you don't hit it perfectly, you're going to pay for that.

And I felt like I wasn't getting into enough points on his serve, so I drifted back to give myself a chance just to hit a quality cut and get into the point, which turned out to be pretty necessary. You know, the ball's jumping out there.

The way he hits it, it's even jumping that much more". He struggled to put pressure on Nadal in the opening set and allowed the Spaniard to play his game. Agassi hit shorter crosscourt backhands and Nadal drilled one of his trademark running forehand down the line that helped him close out the set at love, 6-3.

Then, the rain came down to stop the match for 58 minutes. At the restart, Agassi became more aggressive and eager to increase the frequency of his net points. "I think it was a product of just playing a set against him.

I mean, we never even hit balls together. So you haven't even felt what his ball does, let alone what his best shots are" he said. "And after the rain delay, I certainly had a good feel for what his ball was going to do, which allowed me to be a little bit more convicted on my shots.

Yeah, so it changed a little bit". He followed a different pattern, Nadal noted. Agassi surprised the Spaniard using his backhand differently, found depth and range going down the line. Down 4-3 40-40, Nadal won the point of the match.

Agassi sent seven straight strokes to his backhand then chose a crosscourt backhand but Nadal tracked it down and finished it soon after with a massive backhand that finds Agassi’s backhand corner. The American worked Nadal's serve in the tenth game and broke the Spaniard, who lost his serve for the second time in the whole tournament when Nadal plopped into the net a weak return.

Nadal altered the scenario for the second time. "I think I need to play a little more aggressive. I do that. I play more aggressive, and that's -- for that reason, I think I can change the situation" he said. When Agassi delivered shots that would be winners against anyone else, Nadal moved behind the baseline.

His legs made his defence superior to Agassi's offence. Stuck in the middle of a paradox, Agassi over-hit a forehand and missed the court. Knowing he had to take his chances and possibly shorten the rallies against vintage Nadal, the American couldn't outlast his opponent.

"I feel tough mentally," Nadal said. "That's the most important thing because if I feel tough mentally, I feel good physically, I feel good with the forehand, good with the backhand. If I don't feel good like here" he added pointing to his head, "always is difficult".

Nadal grew in self-confidence and broke in the third and fifth game. It was all over. Game, set and match Nadal, 6-3 4-6 6-2. Agassi missed the final return, Nadal fell down on his back, then the former kid smiled and uttered his congratulation to the best-performing teenager since Mats Wilander in 1983.

"I know I can play well on hard courts because I have some good scores this year," Nadal said. "I am very happy because I say before come here my goal is to win any tournament in hard this year. I have that in the first, no?".