• Rewind to 2005

Injured Federer stunned by Nalbandian

ESPN staff
November 1, 2013
Roger Federer was two points away from the win © Getty Images

Roger Federer took his time to seal his spot at next week's ATP World Tour Finals, and the great man will be taking part in the season-finale for a 12th straight year. We cast our minds back to 2005 to one of the best matches to take place at the event when it was named the Tennis Masters Cup, one that saw David Nalbandian get the better of the record six-time champion in five sets in a stunning final.

Roger Federer had come into the tournament battling an ankle problem after being on crutches three weeks prior to the final. Losing matches were a rarity for the Swiss at the event as he had claimed victory in his previous 35 encounters.

That run saw Federer lift his first Tennis Masters Cup in 2003 and 2004, and there was no player who could get anywhere near him.

It was not just at the season-finale where Federer was a cut above the rest. He had not lost in the last 24 finals he played a part in and only had three defeats all year, so David Nalbandian had his work cut out to inflict a defeat on Federer.

Nalbandian was ranked 12th before the tournament and was summoned to the eight-man field when 2003 US Open champion Andy Roddick pulled out with an injured back. He had to cancel a fishing trip to travel to Shanghai.

Federer injured his right ankle the week after ensuring the year-end No. 1 ranking with his 11th title of the year in Thailand.

He couldn't practice or run until the week before the tournament. And with No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Roddick, No. 4 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 5 Andre Agassi and Australian Open champion Marat Safin withdrawing either before or right at the start of the tournament, there was extra pressure on Federer to win.

The final was the only scheduled best-of-five set match in the tournament. Federer had dropped a set in each of his three round-robin wins, then had a 6-0 6-0 semi-final win over Gaston Gaudio on Saturday night - the first "double-bagel" in his career. It was also the first love-love result at the year-ending tournament, which began in 1970.

But that game-winning sequence stopped when Nalbandian broke Federer to open the final. But after trading breaks in each of the first two sets, Federer held on in the tiebreakers.

Nalbandian's luck changed when he swapped his sweat-soaked black shirt for a red one. He'd wasted three set points and then spiked his racket into the court after the second set. He won 16 of the next 19 games.

Groups of fans wearing red-and-white Swiss shirts willed Federer back into the match. His girlfriend at the time and now wife Mirka Vavrinec, urged him to "hang on."

After winning only five points in the first four games of the fifth, Federer broke Nalbandian three times. The Argentine recovered to force a tiebreaker and then led it 2-0. Federer hung his head after missing a volley to fall behind 4-2 and won only one more point in going down 6-7(4) 6-7(11) 6-2 6-1 7-6(3).

"Roger, don't worry, it's not your last final," Nalbandian joked after doing something that no player had done in a very long time - beat Federer. "You're going to win a lot of tournaments, so let me keep this one.

"He caught a big enough fish today - Roger Federer," Nalbandian's translator said at the post-match news conference.

Federer said he'd never expected to make it so far at the season-ending tournament when he limped into Shanghai last week, but deep down he still would have hoped to keep his winning run going after being two sets up and two points from the win.

"I feel like I've had a great year and a great tournament," he said. "Disappointment is always there, because I don't lose very often. ... I still get that feeling. It's good like this."

Besides, he said, "I came much closer than I ever thought I would come to this tournament victory. It was unfortunate in the end. I cannot believe myself I came back in the fifth, but somehow I did. There's also pride in there because three weeks ago I was still on crutches."

Federer had only once lost a best-of-five set match after leading by two sets - to Lleyton Hewitt in the 2003 Davis Cup semi-final.

"To win like this, it's really incredible," said Nalbandian, who earned $1.4 million in prize money.

Not bad for cancelling a fishing trip.

What happened next?

While Federer would go on to become the most successful grand slam champion of all-time and hold the record for the most number of triumphs at the season-ending tournament, Nalbandian began to decline as a consequence of injuries.

He would win Masters titles in Madrid and Paris after his remarkable victory over Federer, but lengthy absences from the circuit resulted in the Argentinian retiring from the game in 2013. The year before, he reached the final of Queen's, but was disqualified after kicking one of the lines judges, with the win being awarded to Marin Cilic.

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