Nadal finds fight to break Federer stride
Spanish teenager ends world No 1's winning streak
Sunday 05 March 2006
He is vulnerable after all. Roger Federer's run of 16 unbeaten matches this year, which included victory in the Australian Open, came to a remarkable end here last night when he was beaten in three exhilarating sets by Rafael Nadal in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Open.
In a contest worthy of a meeting between the world's two best players, Nadal turned his fortunes around after being comprehensively outplayed in the first set to record his third victory in his four matches against the world No 1. The Spaniard's 2-6 6-4 6-4 victory ended Federer's 56-match winning sequence on hard courts.
Yet for a set and a half it had been a case of man against boy as the 24-year-old gave the 19-year-old a demonstration of the art of hard court tennis. Nadal, standing 10 feet behind the baseline, hit far too many half-court balls which Federer gleefully punished. If the Swiss did not hit an immediate winner he was usually on hand to finish the point with a volley.
The opening three games looked ominous for Nadal. Federer won the first with two volleys and two aces, the second with a fine combination of backhand and forehand drives and the third with two more aces. Nadal hung on to his next two service games but Federer broke again, to love, to take the set.
The Spaniard, however, is nothing if not a fighter and as the second set developed he began hitting the ball harder and finding a better length. Federer had had to save only one break point before the match suddenly turned when Nadal broke to lead 5-4. Federer played a poor game, charging recklessly into the net behind approach shots which lacked penetration, and Nadal duly served out to take the set.
Nadal immediately broke again in the final set, rounding off the first game with a booming forehand cross-court winner, but Federer levelled at 2-2 to set up a thrilling finale. There were no further breaks until Nadal went 5-4 ahead when Federer, almost unbelievably, hit three dreadful forehands.
The Spaniard did not show a trace of nerves as he served out to love to win the match and celebrated his victory by falling flat on his back and clutching his head in his hands.
"Rafa was better on the day," Federer said afterwards. An emotional Nadal found himself short of words. "To beat Roger is special," he said. "I'm very happy."
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