In keeping up with the Roger- Rafa rivalry lets go back to the time when it all started. The very first grand slam that they faced off against each other was French Open semifinal of 2005. Nadal was a 19 year old boy. Nadal and Federer had faced each other two times before this sharing the spoils at 1 a piece but never in a Grand slam. The stage was set for Nadal to prove his credentials and to tell the world that the defeat he inflicted upon Federer in March of 2004 in the 3rd round of Miami Masters was no fluke.
The year 2005 can very well regarded as the start of Nadal’s dominance on clay. A dominance which has produced him 9 titles till date a record in itself of which he won four titles back to back from 2005-2008,a feat still unmatched by anyone in the history.
He entered the tournament as world no 4, a seeding which could see him face the top seed in the semifinal and this was in fact the case. Federer seeded 1 met Rafael Nadal in the semifinal of French Open 2005. The two faced off for the first time on clay and the rest as they say is history. Nadal would go on to claim his maiden French Open title by beating the Argentina’s Mariano Puerta in 4 sets.
The match had all the ingredients of a blockbuster and looking back at it now its easy to say that this was where it all started. Nadal came into the match with all the hype surrounding him he had already made a name for himself, people had already calling him as the best clay court player they had ever seen. There was surely pressure on him coming into his first grand slam but that that’s what champions are made of its their ability to turn the pressure into motivation and not bow down to it and he did just that.
Federer having defeated Nadal in their previous meeting in April came with the belief that he has figured out what it will take to win against the Spaniard. But honestly even today he still doesn’t have a clue, and the records say it all.
Nadal had played all through the tournament with a positive approach and an undying ability to chase the ball. He would force the opponent to play the extra shot to put in extra effort to win a point. There are no free points against him.
Federer faltered from the start and dropped his first service game, Nadal would hold and frustrate Federer by breaking his service game 4 times to take the opening set 6-3. The rain gods tried to play their part and halted the match before the start of the second giving time for Roger to reframe his strategy and it did come good as he went on to level the match by taking the second set 6-4.
And for the first time in the tournament Rafael mental strength was exposed, after going 5-1 down in the 2nd his shoulders were down seems he was going to give up but then he went back to doing what he does best, chase balls. Though Federer took the set it was Nadal who was in the ascendency. He took the third set 6-4 and under fading lights went on to take the fourth as well even after trailing 3-1 at the start, winning the next 5 points on the trot.
The match was also a race against time as had the match as the Philippe Chatrier court had a cutoff time of 9 PM and had the match extended to a fifth set it would have to played the next day.
But Nadal did not want to leave anything to tomorrow and went on to close the match in four sets 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Federer was let down by his strength. His forehand back fired and he did not have any plan B on a surface where the ball doesn’t die easily.
The match marked the coronation of King of Clay and the beginning of the greatest tennis rivalry of all time.