Madrid Flashback: Rafael Nadal wins title after epic battle with Ivan Ljubicic

Rafael Nadal had an incredible 2005 season, lifting 11 ATP titles and becoming world no. 2 behind Roger Federer. The Spaniard won 79 matches and became the major force on clay with eight ATP titles, including two Masters 1000 and a Major crown at Roland Garros. Rafa claimed titles in Canada, Beijing and Madrid on a hard court to wrap up a great year, despite a late injury. Nadal’s last encounter of the season was also one of the most thrilling he had played in his early years on the Tour. Led by the home crowd in Madrid, Rafa came from the brink of defeat to topple Ivan Ljubicic 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 in three hours and 53 minutes in one of the longest Masters 1000 finals ever! Madrid was already the fourth Masters 1000 crown for the young Spaniard and his only on an indoor hard surface, never winning another with a roof over his head! Ljubicic arrived in the Spanish capital in great spirit, winning Metz and Vienna in the previous two weeks and conquering 16 consecutive matches before this Nadal clash.

The Croat built two sets to love lead, took nine points more than the youngster and created 13 break chances. Still, that was not enough to cross the finish line first and claim his biggest title in a career. He fell short in the deciding tie break for a heartbreaking loss. Nadal played well the entire week, beating Victor Hanescu, Tommy Robredo, Radek Stepanek and Robby Ginepri in straight sets to reach the final. There, he had to survive over 80 winners from Ljubicic to emerge as a winner, passing all the challenges and lifting the 11th trophy of the season. The Croat had 56 service winners, landed more than 40 from his forehand, backhand and volley and kept the points on his racquet to dominate in sets one and two. On the other hand, he had to make many unforced errors against such a strong rival from the baseline, which was Nadal’s chance to get back to the scoreboard and stay in touch.

Rafa tamed his shots nicely and fended off eight out of 13 break chances in eight service games to limit the damage and remain competitive. Ivan played against nine break opportunities. Rafa grabbed four breaks, enough to win sets three and four and get himself in a position to play with momentum on his side in the decider. It would have been completely deserved if Ivan had found a way to win this clash. He succeeded in his intentions to overpower Rafa in the shortest points and stay in touch with him in the mid-range and longer rallies. Still, he could not create a more significant lead in the points up to four strokes (91-80) and had to settle for the runner-up spot despite a fantastic effort. It was the best start for the home favorite, firing a forehand winner to break Ivan in the first game and holding at 15 for a 2-0 lead.

Rafael Nadal prevailed over Ivan Ljubicic to win the 2005 Madrid crown.

Ljubicic broke back in game four after a return winner and did the same at 4-3 after Nadal’s poor forehand, forging the advantage and closing the opener with four winners at 5-3 after 30 minutes. Rafa saved break chances to bring the second set’s first game home. Still, he could not do the same two games later, playing another loose forehand to trail 2-1. Ivan secured a break with a volley winner and moved 5-2 up with another break in game seven following Nadal’s forehand error. Facing two break points in the eighth game, Ivan blasted four winners in a row to bring the game and a set home, moving closer to the finish line in under 70 minutes! From 30-0 down in the third set’s third game, Rafa grabbed four straight points for an important hold that gave him a massive boost. He broke Ivan in the next one for only his second lead since the beginning of the match.

The Spaniard fended off three break points in game five to maintain the advantage and forced an error from Ljubicic at 5-3 to take the set and stay in contention after precisely two hours. Ivan lost the edge, and Rafa broke him in the fourth set’s third game with a forehand winner to boost his confidence even higher. He delivered another good hold with a forehand down the line winner a few minutes later for a 3-1 lead. The home favorite needed more in the sixth game when he saved a break point. He hit a service winner to create a 4-2 gap and held at love with another in game eight to remain in front. Serving for the set at 5-4, Rafa held at 30 to send this exciting match into a decider in front of the partisan Spanish crowd that erupted in joy when Ivan sent a backhand long. An amazing volley winner gave Ljubicic two break points in the final set’s second game.

He scored a break after Nadal’s terrible backhand, and the youngster had to start all over if he wanted to complete a comeback. The Spaniard broke back immediately after the Croat’s double fault and held in game eight after two deuces to stay in touch. Four good holds sent them into a tie break, where Nadal opened a 3-0 lead with a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner. Two crucial points on serve moved the youngster 5-2 up, and he grabbed another mini-break after a tired forehand from Ljubicic for three match points. A teenager converted the first following another netted forehand from the Croat to fall to the ground in disbelief, starting a massive celebration of one of his most memorable triumphs on the Tour.