Rafael Nadal has clinched the most of his titles on clay, although his first ATP final came in Auckland 2004 at the age of 17, losing to Dominik Hrbaty in a tight third set. Twelve months later, the young Spaniard advanced into the fourth round of the Australian Open, pushing Lleyton Hewitt to the limits in five sets and shining on clay in February to win titles in Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco.
In 2004, Rafa stunned Roger Federer in Miami and had another great run in Florida in 2005, beating five players to earn the place in the final, his first at the Masters 1000 series and the most notable one on hard courts of his young career.
In the semi-final clash, Nadal toppled the fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 6-3 in an hour and 31 minutes, avenging a tough loss to David in Stuttgart last summer and moving into his third ATP final overall. Although, Nadal became the second-youngest Masters 1000 finalist after Michael Chang, hoping to win the first title on the premium ATP level.
Rafa served at 69% and lost 17 points in nine service games, facing two break chances and giving serve away once to keep the pressure on the other side of the net. David failed to make an impact behind his initial shot, holding without troubles only twice and getting broken four times from six opportunities offered to Nadal to end his run in the semis.
Both players hit more unforced errors than winners and the younger Spaniard controlled his shots more efficiently, dictating the pace from the baseline with his deep and accurate groundstrokes and counting numerous errors from his rival to seal the deal in style.
Nadal had one loose service game but that didn't cost him much as he already forged a big advantage in the opener, dropping five points in the entire second set in his games to sail towards the finish line. Ferrer was unable to impose his shots from the baseline or move Rafa from the comfort zone, struggling to find open space against the super quick opponent who covered the court beautifully or to pass him with winners.
David had to go for the lines and with risky shots to take the initiative away from Nadal and that didn't end well, spraying more than 40 errors overall and not matching Rafa in the winners department. A teenager played a well-composed game, finding the right balance between defense and aggression and having a clear edge in the most extended exchanges to earn the win fair and square.
Ferrer was 11-8 in front in service winners but that couldn't stand as a game-changer in the encounter between two fine baseliners. Nadal made a 17-10 difference in the winners from the field, firing seven from forehand and backhand each and allowing David to land only four forehand winners.
The unforced errors were the crucial element of this clash, as David sprayed no less than 33, 21 of those from his forehand that let him down completely, many times in the critical moments. Rafa stayed on 18 unforced mistakes and despite the fact he had more forced errors (13-7), he would never lose with numbers molded so much in his favor.
Overall, a teenager had 25 winners and 31 errors while David counted to just 21 winners and 43 mistakes, and it is safe to say that the more experienced Spaniard could be satisfied with these seven games he grabbed. Rafa was 31-27 in front in the shortest points up to four strokes and they split the mid-range exchanges, winning 16 each and leaving the most advanced rallies to decide the winner.
Nadal earned the triumph in that segment, taking 21 out of the 30 most prolonged exchanges thanks to his outstanding anticipation and the ability to cover both sides of the court no matter how intensive the rival's attacks are.
"I played very well in South America. Winning the last two tournaments is good for my confidence. I made a nervous start against Schuettler here in Miami. The second match wasn't easy as well, facing Fernando Verdasco who ousted Andy Roddick.
I scored wins in those encounters and I have been improving my tennis all the time. I could have played better today but it was more than good against Ljubicic and Johansson."