ThrowbackTimes Rome: Rafael Nadal tops Guillermo Coria in epic five-setter final

Competing in his third straight Masters 1000 final in Rome 2005, an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal prevailed over Guillermo Coria 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 in five hours and 14 minutes! It was the longest ATP final in the Open era at that moment and one of the most remarkable triumphs in Nadal’s career, refusing to give up and lifting the trophy on his Rome debut. It is hard to describe the level of tennis these two produced during an excellent encounter, as they pushed each other to the limits and constantly forced that extra shot in the rally in a ruthless baseline battle. The Centre Court at Foro Italico had never witnessed a contest like this before in his rich history, with two finest clay-courters giving their best for every point and keeping the ball on a forehand wing as much as possible. They hit four aces in the entire clash, and the winner had to emerge from the ultimate baseline clash, with almost 100 points reaching the ten-shot mark! Despite his fantastic defense skills, Coria knew he had to find a different approach to overpower a teenager.

The Argentine tried to impose his shots and break Nadal’s rhythm with drop shots, net rushings and more risky strokes that would give him the edge in the exchanges. Guillermo was more successful in the shortest points, but Nadal would gain the more dramatic rallies to reach the top and grab the second Masters 1000 title in a row after Monte Carlo. There were massive 37 break chances in total, with nine breaks of serve on each side and a huge opportunity for Guillermo to cross the finish line in the decider when he stood a point away from a 4-0 lead that would have broken Nadal’s resistance. Rafa bounced back and won a tie break 8-6 to celebrate the biggest title in a career and gain a massive boost ahead of Roland Garros. Coria drew first blood in game five when Nadal missed a backhand and cemented the lead with a backhand drive-volley winner for a 4-2 advantage. Nadal had to work hard for every point, fending off a break chance in game seven to avoid a double break deficit and keeping himself in contention.

Rafael Nadal defeated Guillermo Coria in five hours and 14 minutes in Rome 2005 final.

That hold became even more important when he broke back a few minutes later with a rare backhand winner, leveling the score at 4-4 and gaining momentum. His forehand started to find the target, and he held in game nine with a winner from that wing before landing another on the return to steal the set 6-4 after rattling off four games! The youngster wasted a game point in the second set’s third game, and Coria broke him with a forehand drop shot winner to forge a 3-1 advantage with a solid hold a few moments later. Rafa was ready to strike back, erasing the deficit with a break in game six thanks to a forehand winner and hoping to repeat what he did in the opening set. Guillermo stayed composed and seized another break that gave him the necessary boost and drove him towards the set when Nadal gifted his serve at 3-5. Rafa controlled the pace at the beginning of the third set and built a 4-0 gap before getting broken while serving for the set at 5-2.

The ninth game was the longest of the match, and Rafa seized another break on his eighth chance to seal it 6-3 and move closer to the finish line. The Spaniard struggled with blisters on his left hand, and Guillermo broke with a forehand winner in game five to open his second lead in the fourth set, serving to send the encounter into a deciding set at 5-4. Nadal created a break point but was denied after a backhand forced error, allowing Coria to take the set with a service winner after over an hour and force a decider. The best was yet to come in the next hour and a half, though, with the final set turning out to be one of the most memorable ones on the Tour in the last two decades. Guillermo was the better player on the court and raced into a 3-0 lead when Nadal netted an easy forehand, with two game points for what could have been a crucial 4-0 advantage. The warrior inside Rafa had come alive again, fending them off to pull one break back with a drop shot winner.

Coria netted a forehand in game six, and his early lead was done and dusted after falling 4-3 behind when Rafa held in game seven. The pivotal moment came in game nine when Nadal saved a break chance with a backhand slice winner that landed on the line, hitting a forehand winner to bring another game home and keep the pressure on his rival. Guillermo faced a match point in game 12 and saved it with a great forehand attack to set up a tie break after a magnificent lob winner when the clock showed a five-hour mark! The Spaniard won five out of six points to create a 5-1 gap and gained two more match points after the Argentine’s huge forehand miss in the tenth point. To make things even more dramatic, Coria staved off both to level the score at 6-6 and move closer to the finish line and the Masters 1000 crown. However, Nadal was not to be denied, earning the fourth match point after a smash that Guillermo could only return into the net and moving over the finish line thanks to his opponent’s volley error in the next point to celebrate in an epic final.