Rafael Nadal competed in Rome for the first time in 2005. It was love at first sight between the powerful teenager and the Eternal City, as Rafa conquered the title after an epic win over Guillermo Coria in the final. A year later, Rafa was the last man standing in Rome again, beating Roger Federer in one of the greatest matches of all time and going all the way in 2007 to increase the winning streak in Rome to 17 matches.
Nadal's perfect run had to end in 2008, though, losing in the second round against the 2001 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 54 minutes to suffer only the second loss in the last 105 matches on clay since Monte Carlo 2005!
As we know, Juan Carlos would lose in the very next round to Stan Wawrinka, and it is fair to say that Nadal's injury was the main reason he failed to continue his fantastic run on clay. Namely, Rafa had to put special protection on his foot to even appear on the court that Wednesday, dealing with a blister for the last few days.
It was their fifth meeting and the first win for the older Spaniard, who won just one set in the previous encounters against Nadal. Ferrero saved all five break points and worked hard to beat the youngster who was far from his best.
Despite that, Rafa stayed on the court for almost two hours before accepting the defeat, recovering and winning the Hamburg crown a week later after beating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Ferrero was the first who faced troubles on serve, saving a break chance in game three with a smash winner and another with a backhand crosscourt winner to bring the game home when Rafa sent a backhand long.
Rafael Nadal struggled with blisters in Rome 2008 to experience an early loss.
Nadal also saved a break point in game four to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard and had a colossal chance to move in front in game nine, with three break points up for grabs.
He made three forehands errors (two unforced) to waste his opportunity and was forced to save a set point in the tenth game to prolong the opener that already lasted for over an hour. Juan Carlos finally grabbed the break in the 12th game to take the set 7-5 after 75 minutes of grueling battle following a backhand crosscourt winner.
Nadal talked to a doctor in the pause between two sets and didn't have much left in the tank for set number two. Ferrero broke him in the fourth game, which marked the beginning of the end for a three-time defending champion who found himself 4-1 down after Juan Carlos' forehand winner in game five.
That blister on Nadal's right foot looked painful even on the TV screen, and he still refused to retire, losing serve once again in game six after a medical timeout to send Ferrero 5-1 in front. Juan Carlos sealed the deal with three winners in game seven to celebrate one of his best wins in recent years, delivering one of Nadal's rare losses on clay in those years.