SHANGHAI, China -- The 2005 Shanghai Masters Cup was a tournament initially marred by withdrawals but it ended with one of the most dramatic wins in Masters Cup -- now renamed the World Tour Finals -- history. No. 2-seed Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 4 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 5 Andre Agassi and the reigning Australian Open champion Marat Safin, all withdrew either before or during the tournament. David Nalbandian, ranked No. 12, didn't even qualify for the event as an alternate. He got into the tournament when Roddick pulled out, canceling a fishing trip to make the event. Then he proceeded to rally from two-sets to love in the final to snap Roger Federer's 35-match win-streak, winning 6-7 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3). The win would go down as the biggest win in the mercurial Argentine's career.
Here's how the seeding went before the tournament began: 1. Federer, 2. Nadal, 3. Agassi, 4. Guillermo Coria, 5. Nikolai Davydenko, 6. Ivan Ljubicic, 7. Gaston Gaudio, 8. Nalbandian, 9. Mariano Puerta, and 10. Fernando Gonzalez. The field featured four Argentines, five South Americans total. The tennis landscape looked different 10 years ago.
Federer, in the midst of one of his greatest seasons, was on crutches just three weeks before the tournament after he injured his right ankle in Thailand en route to his 11th title of the season. With the tournament being hosted for the first time at the brand new Qi Zhong stadium, Federer confessed to feeling the pressure to deliver, and that pressure intensified after all the high-profile withdrawals. Despite a black ankle brace, Federer went 3-0 in round robin play, including a three-set win over Nalbandian (back then the year-end championships involved best-of three-set matches until the final, which was best-of-five). He notched the first double-bagel win of his career against Gaston Gaudio in the semifinals to advance to his third-straight Masters Cup final. It was also the first double-bagel win in Masters Cup history. He went into that final having not lost his previous 24 finals. Needless to say, things were looking pretty good for the No. 1 to three-peat.
Nalbandian came into the tournament having won just one tournament all season. He was 1-2 against top ten players, with that one win coming against Coria at the Australian Open. But after losing to Federer in his first round robin match he reeled off three convincing wins over top ten opposition, beating Coria, Ljubicic, and Davydenko without losing a set to make the final. He beat Davydenko 6-0, 7-5 in the semifinals. Three bagels in the semifinals? This tournament was weird.
Heading into the final on November 23, 2005, Nalbandian, 23, led their head-to-head 5-4, but Federer had won their last four matches. The Argentine's week gave him confidence though, and knowing he had at one point reeled off five straight wins over Federer didn't hurt. The match lasted four and a half hours. Federer earned a 2-0 lead by narrowly edging Nalbandian in two tiebreakers, with the second set tiebreaker going 13-11 the Swiss' way. Federer had lost a 2-0 lead just once, to Lleyton Hewitt in the 2003 Davis Cup semifinals. But Nalbandian, undeterred by the first two sets, reeled off the next two sets with ease. He won them 6-2 and 6-1 to force the decider.
"Those first two sets took too long, took too much out of me," Federer said. "But there's also pride there because three weeks ago I was still on crutches."
Federer was clearly feeling the effects of his successful season -- this was his 84th match -- and his bum ankle. He called the trainer in the fourth set complaining of exhaustion. In a flash, Federer found himself down 4-0 in the fifth set. Federer practically threw in the towel. "I was just trying to make it harder for him to win," he said. "I wasn't even trying to win anymore in the end."
Maybe he was just playing possum. Maybe he was just being modest. But Federer did fight back to get the match back at level and actually served for the title at 6-5. He was just two points from the win at 30-0 but Nalbandian and his effortless backhand -- one of the sweetest two-handers the game has seen -- broke back to force a tiebreak. He earned three match points and when Federer put the last shot into the net, David Nalbandian became the first Argentine since Guillermo Vilas in 1974 to win the Masters Cup.
"I surprised the world," Nalbandian said. "He almost never loses. To come back from two sets down against the world number one, with his record, it is just incredible."
Highlights: Part 1
Highlights: Part 2
For Federer, the loss was just his fourth of the season. He finished the year 81-4, falling just short of John McEnroe's record season in 1984 when he went 82-3 to post, what still stands today, as the highest winning percentage in a single season.
"Roger, don't worry, it's not your last final," Nalbandian joked during the trophy ceremony. "You're going to win a lot of tournaments, so let me keep this one."