On April 17, 2005, an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal won the first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, beating Guillermo Coria 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in three hours and nine minutes. Thus, the young Spaniard made the first notable step on his glorious clay-court trail that has made him the most successful player in history on the slowest surface over the next 15 years.
It was only the tenth tournament for Nadal at that level, debuting in Monte Carlo two years ago and competing as the top-20 star after reaching the final of the previous Masters 1000 event in Miami. Pumped and motivated to prove himself on the beloved clay, Nadal stormed over four rivals to reach the semis in Monte Carlo, dropping 14 games against Gael Monfils, Xavier Malisse, Olivier Rochus and Gaston Gaudio to advance into the last four.
Richard Gasquet pushed Nadal to the limits in the semis that lasted for two hours and 45 minutes, with the Spaniard saving a break chance at 3-3 in the decider before scoring a crucial break that pushed him through. Guillermo Coria was the player who halted Nadal's fantastic run in Monte Carlo 2003 when the Spaniard was still 16, getting an excellent chance to serve revenge and beat the defending champion and the last year's Roland Garros finalist.
At 18 years, ten months and 14 days, Nadal became the youngest Masters 1000 champion since Michael Chang in Canada 1990, and it is hard to imagine someone who would join them on that list in the years to come. Despite a one-sided scoreboard in the opening three sets, Nadal needed over three hours to wrap up the triumph and prevail in the contest between two of the finest clay-courters.
Rafa won 14 points more than Guillermo and defended his second serve more efficiently to fend off 11 out of 16 break chances. Coria struggled to find the pace after missing the first serve, playing against 20 break opportunities and falling on seven to hand the triumph to his rival despite a chance in the fourth set's ninth game that could have kept him in contention had he took it.
The Argentine had more winners and more unforced errors, staying close to Rafa in the shortest, mid-range and most extended rallies but trailing a bit in all of those to finish runner-up in a grueling battle that saw over 80 exchanges with ten shots or more!
Guillermo made a perfect start and won five points in a row to break Rafa in the first game with a forehand drop shot winner at the net, holding in game two after a 36-stroke rally for a 2-0 lead. Rafa broke back at 2-3 after the Argentine's double fault, gaining momentum and coming from 3-1 down to rattle off five games in a row and clinch the opener 6-3!
Coria sent a backhand long to get broken in game eight, and the last game of the set proved to be the longest one of the entire clash, with Nadal serving at 5-3. The Spaniard had to save three break chances as the rain started to increase, wrapping up the set when Coria netted a backhand in the 14th point to move in front.
Nadal was the player on the mission at that moment, breaking at love at the beginning of the second set after Guillermo's forehand mistake and repelling two break opportunities in the next one to confirm the advantage and seize the seventh consecutive game.
Things went from bad to worse for Guillermo, who hit a double fault in game five to fall 4-1 behind, losing nine out of the last ten games to find himself in real trouble. Rafa was the better player in the crucial points, fending off two more break points in game six to close it with a service winner and move 5-1 in front, forcing Coria to serve to stay in the set.
The Argentine sprayed four errors to lose serve at love, sending the youngster two sets to love in front as Rafa played better and better, looking good to seal the deal in straight sets. After a slow start, the Spaniard controlled the pace, winning 11 of the previous 12 games and saving seven out of eight break points he faced to take a commanding lead before the rest of the clash.
Rafael Nadal claimed the first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo 2005 at 18.
Guillermo had to act quickly and make things better as soon as possible in the third set, breaking in the opening game when Nadal played a loose backhand and repeating that in game three after a 23-shot rally and Spaniard's another backhand mistake in game three.
Rafa had a chance to pull one break back a few minutes later but squandered three break chances to find himself 4-0 behind, losing serve for the third time in a row a few minutes later when his forehand finished in the net.
Serving for the set, Coria saved a break point with a service winner and clinched it after Nadal's another groundstroke error, delivering a bagel and gathering boost before the fourth set that he also had to win to stay in contention.
Rafa struggled a lot in the last half an hour, hitting only one winner and 19 errors in the third set, as he couldn't maintain the level from the opening two. The Spaniard quickly restored the order, breaking Coria in the second game of set number four with a fantastic volley winner and holding in the next one after another excellent point that pushed him 3-0 up.
Guillermo returned from 40-0 down to force a deuce on the return at 1-3, but Nadal held with a lob winner that sent him 4-1 ahead, moving closer and closer to the finish line. The match could have been over when Coria hit a double fault at 1-4 to offer two break chances to Rafa, digging deep to save them all and bring the game home when Nadal's forehand landed long.
That one became even more significant when Guillermo broke back at 2-4 and climbed back to 4-4 after a good hold to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard. A forehand winner gave him a break chance in the ninth game that could have turned the scoreboard around completely, denied by Nadal's forehand winner in what had been one of the crucial strokes the Spaniard hit in the entire match.
Rafa brought the game home with two more winners to remain in front, and they both served well in the following two games, leaving Coria to serve for staying in the match at 5-6. Facing two match points, he saved the first with a forehand winner, but Nadal sealed the deal on the second after landing a forehand down the line winner.
Thus, a teenager lifted his first notable title and sent a clear sign that he would be the player to beat in the rest of that clay season and for the next 15 years as well!