Hamburg stayed in the Masters 1000 calendar between 1990 and 2008. The notable champions were Stefan Edberg, Marcelo Rios, Gustavo Kuerten and Roger Federer, with one big name missing from that list. Rafael Nadal had always preferred Rome over Hamburg, losing 2007 final to Roger and having one more chance a year later.
Heading to Hamburg following an early Rome exit in 2008, Rafa met world no. 3 and the Rome champion Novak Djokovic in the semis. It was their tenth meeting and the seventh victory for Rafa, who prevailed 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 in three hours and three minutes under a roof on Centre Court.
Novak had an extra motive to beat Rafa on clay for the first time. He could have become world no. 2 with this victory, but he finished on the losing side despite a great effort and 19 break chances on his tally. The Serb converted only four and suffered five breaks to push the rival into the final clash against Roger Federer.
They hit a similar number of winners. Djokovic stood above Nadal in the forced errors department after an aggressive approach. Still, he sprayed too many unforced errors in his efforts, often in pivotal moments, to lose the match and remain world no.
3. Novak grabbed a break at 1-1 in the opener and cemented the lead with a forehand down the line winner in game three. Nadal drops 14 out of 18 points since the start of the match to find himself 30-0 down in game four before fending off two break chances and getting his name to the scoreboard.
Novak wasted a game point in the fifth game and lost serve and momentum after Rafa’s forehand winner. The Spaniard saved a break point in game six to finally catch the rival and level the score at 3-3.
Rafael Nadal faced Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in Hamburg 2008.
Nadal broke at love in game nine to forge a 5-4 lead and serve for the set.
Djokovic stayed calm and broke at 15 to extend the battle. Nadal broke again in game 11 and sealed the opener with a forehand winner at 6-5 after 72 minutes. Novak saved two break chances at 2-2 in the second set and seized the fourth break chance in the next one to move 4-2 ahead.
The Serb stole the rival’s serve again at 5-2 to wrap up the set and get a massive boost ahead of the decider. Nadal scored an early break with a backhand crosscourt winner and saved two break chances in game two to settle into a fine rhythm.
Djokovic could not convert two more break chances in the fourth game, and Nadal stole his serve at 4-2 to increase the advantage. The eighth game saw eight deuces and three break chances for Novak. Rafa denied them and seized the fifth match point to emerge at the top and set the title clash with another great rival, Roger Federer.
“It was a fantastic match. I’m a bit tired right now, so let’s see how I feel tomorrow. I’ll need to be 100% if I want to have a chance of beating Roger,” Rafael Nadal said.