Rafael Nadal will start his 18th Madrid Open campaign on Wednesday against Carlos Alcaraz. The 20-time Major champion spoke about his favorite Madrid Open memories between his training sessions, mentioning that first edition at Caja Magica in 2009.
Rafa became world no. 1 in August 2008 and had a massive boost at the beginning of the next season, winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome before heading to Madrid for the first Masters 1000 event on clay in his country.
Nadal had lost only three encounters that year and had to work hard to avoid the fourth in Madrid's semi-final, prevailing over Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in four hours and three minutes after saving three match points!
It was the 19th straight victory for Nadal on clay in 2009 (150-4 since 2005) and his 27th victory in 28 ATP semi-finals on clay, overpowering the mighty opponent in one of the longest three-setters in the last couple of decades.
The Serb was there to challenge Rafa in all three biggest tournaments during the clay swing. Nadal had beat him in the Monte Carlo and Rome finals, and Novak was ready to give his 120% and finally notch a win over the Spaniard on the slowest surface.
Djokovic won five points more and played against only two break chances in the entire clash, with eight break opportunities up for grabs and two return games on his tally. Novak had more winners and fewer errors, beating Rafa in the most extended rallies but falling short in the deciding tie break to suffer one of the most heartbreaking defeats in a career.
It was a shaky start from Nadal, who hit a double fault in game two to drop serve and faced troubles at 0-3 before delivering two service winners to get his name on the board. Djokovic had a clear advantage behind the initial shot, holding with ease in game five to move 4-1 ahead and placing his strokes correctly to move Nadal around the court.
The Spaniard held after another deuce in game six and saved a set point at 2-5 with a forehand crosscourt winner to stay in touch and force Novak to serve for the set. Djokovic was in a powerful rhythm in his games, bringing the set home with a hold at 15 after 50 minutes and looking strong to grab his first triumph over Rafa on clay.
The Serb moved closer to the finish line with a break opportunity in the second set's third game that Nadal repelled with a service winner to notch another significant hold and keep himself in contention. Both players held with ease in the next five games, and Rafa had to face an ultimate test at 4-4 when Novak created two break chances.
Standing on the verge of defeat, Nadal blasted two service winners and brought the game home after another to stay ahead and open a 5-4 advantage. More troubles were waiting for the Spaniard just around the corner, as Djokovic had another break chance at 5-5, denied by Nadal's good serve, who brought the game home after 11 minutes to hang in there.
Rafael Nadal needed over four hours to beat Novak Djokovic in Madrid 2009.
Novak had to play against the very first break chance at 5-6 (two hours and 12 minutes since the beginning of the match) and saved it with a backhand down the line that forced Rafa's error and set a tie break where the pressure was on his opponent.
With his back pushed against the wall, Nadal delivered his most excellent tennis in the tie break, taking every point on serve and scoring a mini-break at 3-2 with a forehand winner. The home favorite blasted a service winner to grab the breaker 7-5 and send the encounter into a decider after almost two and a half hours!
The Serb kept fighting and created two break opportunities in the final set's game four, converting the second with a forehand winner to build a 3-1 lead and move closer to the finish line. Out of a sudden, Rafa broke back immediately to reduce the deficit when Novak missed a forehand.
The battle was alive and kicking after the Spaniard's forehand down the line winner in game six that leveled the score at 3-3. Djokovic struggled with his second serve but managed to hold before reaching two deuces on the return a few minutes later that could have delivered the crucial lead for him.
Nadal overwhelmed the danger and held after deuce in game 12 to set up a deciding tie break, the best way to decide the winner of this great clash of titans. Novak forced Rafa's backhand error at 5-5 to earn the first match point and had his chances to seal the deal before Nadal landed a forehand down the line winner to level the score at 6-6 for more drama.
Djokovic produced another match point up for grabs after a grueling rally. Still, Nadal was not to be denied, erasing it with another forehand winner and staying on the positive side of the scoreboard. Novak fended off a match point at 7-8 with a forehand winner, and a service winner offered the third match point for him at 9-8, hoping for that one last push that would carry him over the top.
Rafa repelled it with a service winner and cracked a forehand down the line winner to earn his second match point at 10-9, building momentum in the encounter's decisive moments. He forced Novak's error in that 18th point to seal the deal and celebrate one of the most significant victories ever in front of the partisan crowd that helped him pass one of the most challenging obstacles he ever faced on his beloved surface.
As was expected, Nadal had nothing left in the tank for Sunday's final meeting against Roger Federer after these four hours of incredible tennis, losing 6-4, 6-4 to hand the first Caja Magica title to the Swiss.