After three straight titles, Rafael Nadal was the favorite at the Rome Masters again in 2008. However, the king of clay failed in those attempts following a shocking 7-5, 6-1 second-round loss to the 2001 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.
The more experienced Spaniard sealed the deal in an hour and 54 minutes, delivering Nadal’s second clay-court loss in the previous 105 matches since Monte Carlo 2005! Juan Carlos would lose in the next round to Stan Wawrinka, and it’s fair to say that Rafa’s injury was the main reason he failed to continue his fantastic clay-court run.
Namely, Nadal had to put special protection on his foot to even appear on the court, dealing with a blister for the last few days. It was their fifth meeting and the first win for the older Spaniard, who won just one set in the previous encounters against Nadal!
Ferrero saved all five break points and worked hard to beat the youngster who was far from his best. Despite apparent issues, Rafa stayed on the court for almost two hours before accepting the defeat, having nothing left in the tank in set number two.
Ferrero was the first to face troubles on serve. He saved a break chance in game three with a smash winner and another with a backhand crosscourt winner to bring the game home when Rafa sent a backhand long.
Rafael Nadal struggled with a blister in Rome 2008 to experience an early loss.
Nadal denied a break point in game four to remain on the positive side.
The defending champion had a colossal chance to move in front in game nine, with three break points up for grabs. He made three forehands errors (two unforced) to waste his opportunity and had to save a set point in the tenth game to prolong the opener.
Juan Carlos finally grabbed the break in the 12th game with a backhand crosscourt winner to take the set 7-5 after 75 minutes of grueling battle. Nadal talked to a doctor in the pause between two sets and did not have much left in the tank for set number two.
Ferrero broke him in the fourth game, marking the beginning of the end for a three-time defending champion. Nadal found himself 4-1 down after Juan Carlos’ forehand winner in game five, and a blister on his right foot looked painful even on TV.
However, the young gun refused to surrender and retire, dropping serve again in game six to fall 5-1 behind. Juan Carlos sealed the deal with three winners in game seven, celebrating one of his best wins in recent years and delivering one of Nadal’s rare losses on clay.