Paris Flashback: Rafael Nadal reaches final on debut

Despite being a top-50 player for a couple of years, Rafael Nadal only made his Paris Masters debut in 2007. The Spaniard reached the final of the season’s last Masters 1000 event following a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 triumph over Marcos Baghdatis. It was Nadal’s third notable season in a row despite early exits in Cincinnati, the US Open and Madrid. He won his third Roland Garros trophy and played in the second Wimbledon final. After Madrid’s quarter-final loss, Rafa came to Paris for the first time and defeated Filippo Volandri, Stan Wawrinka and Mikhail Youzhny without losing a set, hoping for more of the same against Baghdatis in the semi-final. The Cypriot pushed Rafa to the limits, winning the opening set and having a break advantage in the second before the Spaniard turned the tables and won sets two and three.

It was their fifth match since Indian Wells 2006 and the fifth triumph for world no. 2, who lost serve three times and delivered four breaks to cross the finish line first. Baghdatis stayed on level terms with Rafa in the more extended exchanges. However, Nadal forged the triumph in the shortest and mid-range rallies that sent him over the top. Marcos had more winners and unforced errors, unable to tame his strokes in the decider and score a notable victory. Rafa held at love in the opening game with a drop shot winner and rattled off five straight points on the return for a 2-0 advantage. Finding his strokes, Baghdatis hammered a forehand down the line winner in game five to pull the break back and painted a backhand down the line winner in the next one to level the score at 3-3.

Rafael Nadal reached the final on his Paris Masters debut in 2007.

Losing ground in those moments, Rafa sprayed a forehand error to get broken in game seven and handed the last four games to his opponent. Marcos saved break chances, brought the eighth game home to open a 5-3 lead and secured the opening set with a hold at love at 5-4. With a massive boost on his side and a rock-solid backhand to carry him through, Baghdatis grabbed a break at 15 at the beginning of the second set. He held with an ace for a 6-4, 2-0 advantage and an excellent chance to score a career-best victory. In one of the critical moments of the entire encounter, Rafa placed a forehand down the line return winner in game six to pull the break back and held at 15 in the next one to open a 4-3 gap. The Spaniard held after deuce in game nine with a service winner and clinched a break with a brilliant return at 5-4 to force a decider. Losing steam, Baghdatis sent a tired backhand long in the fourth game to suffer a break. He allowed Rafa to open a 4-1 lead with a backhand down the line winner a few minutes later. Serving for the victory at 5-3, Nadal held at 30 to seal the deal and advance into his 12th Masters 1000 final at 21.