Roger Federer is often lauded for his ability to avoid injuries, but the Swiss entered the 2005 Masters Cup in Shanghai having hurt his right ankle just a few weeks prior.
That said, even a hobbled and unprepared Federer is too much for most players, and he made it through the round robin undefeated. The final was a rematch with one of the men he beat at that stage, David Nalbandian.
Although short of his best form, and run ragged by a crafty and energetic Nalbandian at the beginning of the match, Federer still managed to sneak the first two sets in tie-breaks. The first was close, but the second was a knife-edge affair, vacillating between set points for both men before the Swiss snatched it 13 points to 11. With a two sets to one lead, it looked as though the Wimbledon and US Open champion was headed for a tough but decisive victory.
But Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, didn’t flinch. When Federer double faulted to hand him the opening game of the third set, the Argentine proved a strong frontrunner, and he secured another break on his way to taking it 6-2. Three games into the fourth, Federer required treatment for his injury, and his movement suffered noticeably thereafter.
A cunning Nalbandian capitalised with a series of deft drop shots, and raced through the remainder of the fourth set. With Federer continuing to struggle in the decider, Nalbandian won his tenth game in a row to open up a seemingly unassailable 4-0 lead. However, a further twist was in store, as Federer began to go for broke on his shots and his opponent succumbed to nerves. After coming out on top in some breathtaking rallies, the world number one fought his way back to 4-all, and broke for 6-5 to give himself a chance to serve it out.
But as the crowd roared their approval, this most fluctuating of contests took another turn for the unpredictable, and Nalbandian broke back immediately. In the fifth set tie-break, the eighth seed finally wore down his weary and wounded rival, and he sunk to the floor when Federer’s final forehand hit the net. It was a brave and spirited performance from the Swiss, and only his second defeat at the event, yet Nalbandian had hung on just enough to win the biggest title of his career.