After one of the best seasons for teenagers, Rafael Nadal had to skip the final event of 2005 due to a left foot injury and the Australian Open next January, returning in Marseille in February and winning the Dubai title following the victory over Roger Federer.
In the next two weeks, Nadal was among the players to beat in Indian Wells, getting broken three times in the first four matches to deliver straight-sets triumphs and set the semi-final clash against James Blake. It was an excellent chance for Rafa to arrange another meeting with Federer, who defeated Paradorn Srichaphan in the second semi-final.
Still, it wasn't to be for the world's leading players, as Nadal lost to Blake 7-5, 6-3 in an hour and 31 minutes. James ousted Rafa at the US Open last September and gathered the home crowd's energy again in the desert to grab the second straight win over the Spaniard for the first Masters 1000 final.
The American played better on both the first and second serve, fending off five out of six break chances and stealing Nadal's serve thrice to propel himself into the title match in straight sets. They had a similar number of winners, and despite hitting more unforced errors, James forced almost half as many mistakes as Rafa, staying aggressive and delivering one of the career's finest victories.
The American had the advantage in the shortest points up to four strokes and stayed in touch with the Spaniard in the more extended exchanges, enduring all the challenges to topple world no. 2 and remain on the title course.
James Blake defeated Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells 2006.
James held at 15 in the first game with a service winner and landed an ace in game three to stay in front and seek the opportunity on the return. It came in the next one when he forced Nadal's error to open a 3-1 advantage, only to suffer a break soon after that to keep the youngster in contention.
Nadal held at 15 in game six and created a break chance a few minutes later, denied by Blake, who ended his downfall with a service winner, serving well in the rest of the set to keep the pressure on Rafa. The Spaniard failed to reach a tie break after getting broken in the 12th game to hand the opener to his rival, having to work harder in set number two if he wanted to make a turnaround.
Facing four break chances in the second set's fifth game, Blake grabbed four straight points to avoid the setback. The American earned the crucial break at 4-3 when Nadal sent a backhand long and sealed the deal with four winners in the next game to book the final spot against world no. 1 Roger Federer.