Friday, December 6, 2013

A Look Back at... Shanghai 2005

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November 2005. The end of what has been a fairly decent but by no means spectacular season for David, who was ranked #9 at the beginning of it and now finds himself at #12 and too far behind in the race to qualify for the Masters Cup. So after losing the first match he gets to play at Paris-Bercy (to Tommy Haas, second round) the season is over for David. He returns home and prepares to go on holiday.
But then he gets a call from the ATP...
Well, I was at home, Cordoba. It was Monday afternoon. I was already packing all my stuff, going fishing in south Argentina. I was supposed going Tuesday morning.
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Instead of going fishing David travels to Shanghai, where the first Chinese edition of the ATP's year-ending championship is going through some major line-up changes. Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick already withdrew ahead of the event. Rafael Nadal (directly before his first match) and Andre Agassi (directly after his first one) follow.
David's Red Group, however, remains unchanged after his arrival. As does the schedule and less than a week after the call David plays his first group-stage match against Roger Federer.

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Going into it the match record stands at 5-3 for David, who's playing this event without any proper preparation but also without any real pressure. While Roger Federer is the #1 and currently on a 31-match winning streak but hasn't played since September due to an ankle injury.
Still, whenever these two meet, "we always play very good tennis"
- as David puts it during the press conference afterwards (transcript here).
And as is usually the case with them, the match is pretty close (highlights here). Federer catches the better start and takes the first set. Then David ups his game and wins the second but he runs out of gas in the third.
In the end, Federer prevails 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, extending his streak to 32 wins.
But despite the loss David is optimistic. After all, it was close.
In his second match in the Red Group, he's now up against a fellow Argentinean he has known since childhood days.

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David and Guillermo "El Mago" Coria started playing tennis together as well as against each other when they were eight years old. As juniors, they travelled together and they also won the junior doubles at Wimbledon together. Which means, they know all there is to know about each other's games. And this often makes for long and spectacular rallies, as they both have to go to some lengths in order to outfox each other.
On clay, it's Coria who holds the upper hand but here on carpet David prevails 7-5, 6-4. And that their days as childhood friends are over you get to see at the end of the clip above.

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With one win and one loss to his name David still has the chance to make the semifinal. But to finish second in the Red Group he needs another win in his last group-stage match against Ivan Ljubicic. In the following years David will suffer a series of defeats against the Croat but this time it takes him merely 68 minutes to beat Ljubicic 6-2, 6-2 (the last two games here).
It's the first truly impressive performance that David puts in this week at Shanghai and it not only grants him a spot in the semifinal but also growing attention by the media. In the post-match press conference they ask him about the his holiday plans and the ATP's last minute call. They also ask him why he's not ranked higher, what stops him. David's reply, with a smile - "motivation, sometimes". 
Another topic during the press conference (transcript here) is David's opponent in the semifinal.
Who has been hoping he'll get to face David because he likes playing against him.

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- Though perhaps not this time. It's the fourth of what will eventually be a dozen encounters between David and Nikolay Davydenko, the winner of the withdrawal-riddled Gold Group. And in the first set David is able to pick up exactly where he left off against Ljubicic. Or in the words of Davydenko, "I make few mistake. He make only winners and no mistake." The result is a bagel in the first set. The second set is a bit more of a struggle. Halfway through it David drops his serve but he manages to recover the break immediately and eventually wins 6-0, 7-5.
Two weeks earlier the season seemed to be done and dusted for David.
And now he's in the final of the Masters Cup:
Well, it's good. I feel very happy, of course. I never imagined that I can play the finals tomorrow because I was out of the tournament. It's really nice to come here and playing that good again. That make me feel very comfortable on court and try to think in win the final as well tomorrow. (Source.)
In the other semi Federer makes the shortest possible work of Gaston Gaudio with a 6-0, 6-0 whitewash.
So they meet again in the final - David and Roger Federer.

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And it turns into the greatest battle ever between these two...

The first two sets are very close and both go to a tiebreak. The first Federer takes 7-4. In the second David has the chance to draw level but fails to convert any of his altogether three set points. In the end, Federer wins the second-set tiebreak 13-11 and now has a two-set lead. And the outcome of this final seems all but decided. But then the match takes a completely different and unexpected turn.
David breaks Federer again at the start of the third set, like he did at the beginning of the match. But this time he holds on to the break and then even adds another one to take the third set 6-2. After that his dominance becomes even more extreme. From 0-1 in the fourth set to 6-1 and then 4-0 in the fifth David wins ten games in a row. And he's getting very close to the finishing line but as Federer will much later say about David, he tends to give his opponents a second chance.
Federer recovers both breaks until they're back on serve at 4-4. He even gets to serve for the match at 6-5 and at 30-30 Roger Federer is two points away from victory. But the next points go to David and in the end, a last tiebreak must decide.
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And despite the last few chaotic games David is now in charge again and constantly ahead in the tiebreak until at 6-3 he has three match points. But he needs only one. A forehand by Federer finds the net. And David wins 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3).

The Masters Cup 2005 is the biggest title David wins in his career. At an event he didn't even qualify for, initially. And the final goes down as the match he's more proud of than any other. Because of how well he played but also because of how well he managed to deal with the situation and the setbacks (full transcript of his post-match press conference here).
When I play Lleyton Hewitt in the Wimbledon finals, I was 20 years old, different. I was a little bit nervous, and I couldn't play my best. But today I think I play very good from the beginning. And then win like this, it's really incredible, the way. It's incredible. Of course, it makes me special feeling to win like this.
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