Hamburg remained on the Masters 1000 schedule between 1990 and 2008. The most prominent champions were Stefan Edberg, Marcelo Rios, Gustavo Kuerten and Roger Federer, but one big name was missing from that list. Rafael Nadal had always preferred Rome to Hamburg, losing the 2007 final to Roger and getting one more chance a year later.
Going to Hamburg after an early elimination in Rome in 2008, Rafa met world No. 3 and Rome champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. It was his tenth match and the seventh victory for Rafa, who won 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 in three hours and three minutes indoors on the Central Court.
Novak had an extra reason to beat Rafa on clay for the first time. He could have become the world number 2 with this victory, but he ended up losing despite a great effort and 19 break chances on his account. The Serb converted just four and suffered five breaks to push his opponent into the final clash against Roger Federer.
Both scored a similar number of winners. Djokovic moved ahead of Nadal in the forced errors department after an aggressive approach. Still, he made too many unforced errors in his efforts, often at crucial moments, to lose the match and remain world No.
3. Novak got a break at 1-1 in the first game and cemented the lead with a forehand winner down the line in the third game. Nadal dropped 14 of 18 points from the start of the match and found himself down 30-0 in the fourth game, before fending off two break chances and putting his name on the scoreboard.
Novak wasted a game point in game five and lost serve and momentum after Rafa’s forehand winner. The Spaniard saved a break point in the sixth game to finally catch up with the rival and level the score at 3-3.
Nadal has a golden opportunity
In Rafael Nadal’s autobiography, Toni describes how his nephew was a well-mannered boy while growing up.
He said, “Respect for other people, for everyone irrespective of who they might be or what they might do, is the starting point of everything. What is not acceptable is that people who have had it all in life should behave coarsely with other people.
No, the higher you are, the greater your duty to treat people with respect”. Talking about what he would have done if Nadal was an ill-mannered boy, Toni said, “I would have hated my nephew to have turned out any other way, to have performed tantrums on court, to have been churlish with his opponents, with the whole world watching on TV.
Or, for that matter, to be impolite with the umpires or the fans. I always say, and his parents do too, that it is more important to be a good person than a good player”.