In the spring of 2007, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had been the best players in the world for two years, competing on a different level in comparison to all the opponents and dominating on their favorite surfaces like almost no one before them.
Nadal hadn't lost on clay for surreal 72 matches (Roger would end that streak in the Hamburg final two weeks later). In contrast, Federer had won 48 consecutive encounters on grass since Mario Ancic took him down at Wimbledon 2002, adding four Wimbledon titles to his tally.
With those numbers in mind, the idea emerged to see these two great rivals in an unseen type of exhibition match, set for May 2, at Palma Arena in Palma de Mallorca, Nadal's home island. It took 19 days and $1.63 million to create a special court that was never seen before, containing grass on the one half and clay on the other!
After two hours and 29 minutes of entertaining battle, Nadal prevailed 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(10), repelling two match points in the decisive tie break to emerge as a winner in front of the home fans. It was a fascinating clash, both in terms of the result and the fact they had to change the shoes in the pauses between the games regarding the part of the court they were playing next.
Nadal made a comfortable hold in the first game while hitting from the clay court, as it was easier to control the ball and attack the rival who had less time for reaction on the grass side. Roger had to save break points already in his first service game despite playing on the clay side too, surviving them to avoid an early setback.
Returning from clay in game four, Nadal broke with a beautiful backhand down the line winner to open up a 3-1 lead and held from the same side of the court to extend the advantage after just 20 minutes. Roger pulled the break back in game seven while using the benefits of the clay court, with no more successful return games until the Swiss served to stay in the set at 5-6 from the grass court.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played on a unique court in May 2007.
Nadal played a fantastic game and broke Roger at love to take the opener 7-5 in 44 minutes, sealing the deal with a forehand crosscourt winner and hoping for more in the rest of the encounter.
Federer forged an early lead at the beginning of the second set while returning from grass, finding a nice rhythm from both sides to stay in front all the time and clinching the set with a hold at love from clay in game ten to send the encounter into a decider after an hour and 22 minutes.
He was the better player now, with his serve looking more dangerous and having the upper hand from the baseline to keep the pressure on Rafa. The Spaniard opened the final set with a much-needed hold from the grass side of the court and earned a break in game four after Roger's easy volley mistake at the net.
The Swiss broke back immediately to reduce the deficit to 3-2 and saved a break chance in game six with a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner to stay in contention. There were no chances for the returners in the remaining games, setting up a tie break, the best possible way to end this fantastic and unique match.
Federer had a 4-2 lead before Nadal came back to 5-5 to heat the drama and keep the crowd on the edge of their seats. A tremendous passing forehand gave Rafa the first match point that he wasted after a double fault, allowing Roger to stay alive at least for two more points.
A service winner gave Rafa another match point, but Federer was not to be denied that easily, firing a service winner to make the result even at 7-7. The Swiss star took the next point for his match point, spraying a backhand error and failing to cross the finish line.
Roger saved another match point with a solid serve&volley combo and deserved his second at 10-9, pushing hard and seeking that one point that would secure the triumph for him. It was Nadal's turn to show his clutch, fending it off with a brave attack and seizing the fourth match point when Roger failed to pick up the ball from a bad bounce on grass.
The Spaniard seized the tie break 12-10 to celebrate the victory in front of the home crowd in a memorable day of tennis.