David Nalbandian usually got the better of Roger Federer as a junior and won their first five meetings on the senior circuit. Those days seemed a lifetime ago here yesterday as the world's best player won their semi-final in the Madrid Masters 6-4, 6-0 in just 58 minutes. In today's final, Federer will play Fernando Gonzalez, who beat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-1 in a similarly one-sided contest.
There are just three world ranking places between Federer and Nalbandian, but the gulf in class was as wide as nearby Retiro Park. From the moment Federer opened with two aces, it was clear that Nalbandian's first semi-final since losing to the Swiss in the French Open would be an uphill struggle.
Federer pulverised the Argentine with glorious attacking strokes. The only blip came when he made four unforced errors to drop his serve for the first time this week at 4-2 in the first set, but he was quickly back on track. Nalbandian made plenty of mistakes, but most were the result of the pressure applied by Federer.
Not one for false modesty, Federer described the second set as "phenomenal". The last five points typified the variety of his play: an inside-out forehand winner down the line after wonderful movement of the feet, a high backhand volley behind a fine approach, a spanking backhand return winner down the line, a firm forehand winner into a corner, and a penetrating approach which forced a backhand error.
"The second set was when I could start to hit freely, to hit the returns more and take more chances," Federer said. "There were more and more good shots coming from my end. It was great fun. Maybe I made the crowd feel they were living through something special. In the end I told myself I might as well go for it - and it all worked out. It's a feeling you don't get very often."
Federer has reached the final of 14 of his 15 tournaments this year, his only slip having come in Cincinnati two months ago, when Andy Murray beat him in the second round. Rafael Nadal, who denied the Swiss in four finals in the spring, is the only other player who has beaten him since Nalbandian won their Tennis Masters Cup final in Shanghai last November.
Gonzalez played with confidence against Berdych, who was intimidated by the crowd's persistent jeers after the Czech had taunted them following his defeat of Nadal. Gonzalez has won 20 of his last 25 matches and reached the semi-finals or final of five of his last six tournaments, but the Chilean world No 10 will be acutely aware of his record against Federer, who has won all seven of their meetings.