HAMBURG (Reuters) - Roger Federer brought an end to Rafael Nadal’s 81-match winning streak on clay on Sunday, beating the Spaniard 2-6 6-2 6-0 to win the final of the Hamburg Masters and give his French Open preparations the perfect boost.
The world number one, who had never before beaten the Spaniard on his favorite surface, looked to be in line for his usual humbling in the red dirt as Nadal punished his early mistakes in brutal style to take the first set with a couple of breaks.
Federer hit back for an early break in the second, though, and stormed through the final set to seal his first title in five tournaments, so ending his worst slump since he became number one in February 2004.
Nadal had won 13 consecutive clay-court titles, including the last two French Opens, during a winning run dating back to April 2005. The last man to beat him had been the Russian Igor Andreev in the quarter-finals in Valencia that year.
“If I had to lose to anyone, Roger is the man,” Nadal said out on court. “I congratulate him on a great tournament and wish him luck for the French.”
The 20-year-old Spaniard, who had won four tournaments already this year, started well but just seemed to run out of steam after Federer had levelled the match.
Whether he can regain his freshness for Roland Garros, starting in a week’s time, is now the big question.
Federer, who has never won the French Open, needs to take the Roland Garros title to become only the third man after American Don Budge and Australian Rod Laver to hold all four majors at the same time.
He will take great heart from a victory that gave him his fourth Hamburg Masters title.
“It’s great to play here again and win again,” Federer said. “I’ve fallen in love with this tournament.”
Another victory had looked all but impossible while Nadal was sweeping up the first set.
Federer did manage to save a couple of break points in the opening game but he was soon in trouble again as Nadal hit a series of forehand winners.
The Swiss let a cross-court backhand drift into the net on break point in game three and Nadal helped himself to another break in game five thanks to two backhand mistakes from his ragged-looking opponent.
Federer saved break points again in his first service game in the second set before three forehand winners in the next game gave him his first break against the Nadal serve.
He broke again in the last game of the set to underline just how much the balance had shifted and when Nadal let a tired forehand slip wide on break point in game two of the third the writing was on the wall.
“Winning 81 matches is an amazing streak,” Federer said of his opponent. “I have a lot of respect for him.”