In 2005, Rafael Nadal became world no. 2 behind Roger Federer, improving his game regularly and challenging a great rival like no one before him. Between Miami 2004 and Roland Garros 2006, Rafa toppled Roger in six out of seven encounters, scoring four notable wins over the Swiss in the first half of 2006 before Roger bounced back at Wimbledon and the Masters Cup.
The world's leading players were the rivals in the semi-final in Shanghai at the closing event of the season, with Federer standing as the favorite on an indoor hard court. Rafa made the Masters Cup debut that year, missing the event in 2005 with a foot injury and reaching the semi-final following wins over Tommy Robredo and Nikolay Davydenko.
Federer struggled a bit in his group but scored all three wins in the round-robin stage, hoping for more of the same against the Spaniard. Playing against each other for the ninth time, Federer toppled Nadal 6-4, 7-5 in an hour and 53 minutes, becoming the first player since Ivan Lendl with four straight Masters Cup title matches!
Roger won ten points more than Rafa, dominating with his first serve and facing only two break chances. Nadal converted one of those but that wasn't enough to keep him safe, dropping 40% of the initial shot points and suffering three breaks from 11 opportunities offered to the Swiss.
Roger had the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, following Rafa's pace in the more advanced rallies to seal the deal in straight sets and advance into the title match against James Blake. Federer held at 15 in the first game when Nadal netted a backhand and landed a forehand winner in game two for an early break.
The former champion forced a mistake from the youngster to secure the third game, forging a massive advantage after only ten minutes.
Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal in the 2006 Masters Cup semi-final.
The Spaniard fended off two break chances in game four to avoid a complete disaster, followed by a perfect volley winner from Roger in the next one for a 4-1 advantage.
Nadal held at love in game eight to prolong the set and broke Federer without losing a point a few minutes later to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard, pretty much out of nowhere. Recovering his strokes, Roger grabbed a break at 15 in game ten thanks to a sharp forehand, stealing the opener and earning a massive boost.
Rafa sprayed a forehand error in the second set's fourth game to offer two break chances to Roger, remaining calm and taking four points in a row to get out of jail and stay on the positive side. Federer played against a break point in the next game after wasting those opportunities, saving it with a forehand down the line winner and bringing the game home for a 3-2 lead.
Facing the ultimate challenge at 4-5, Rafa erased two match points and held after four deuces to stay in contention. Serving to level the score at 6-6, Nadal landed a forehand beyond the baseline to squander a game point, wasting another before Roger converted his third match point with a forehand crosscourt winner, securing a place in the fourth consecutive Masters Cup title match.