Nadal hands Federer first loss of year in Dubai

Updated: March 4, 2006, 4:50 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Rafael Nadal, playing only his second tournament in four months, beat top-ranked Roger Federer 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in the final of the Dubai Open.

Federer had won this event the past three years. The Swiss star had captured his two other tournaments in 2006 -- the Australian Open and Doha Open.

Nadal, seeded and ranked second, ended Federer's 56-match hardcourt winning streak. The Spaniard won in less than two hours.

"I think it is unbelievable to win against the best player in the world -- perhaps the best in history of the game," said Nadal, who broke down in tears on court. "It was also special because I was out of the game for more than three months. I cried because I was happy."

The 19-year-old Nadal, the 2005 French Open champion, recently recovered from a foot injury that kept him out of most tournaments the last four months. He made his return in Marseille two weeks ago, where he reached the semifinals.

Completely outplayed in the first set, Nadal changed his tactics in the second set.

"He was playing too well in the first set, very aggressive. I could do nothing," Nadal said. "In the second, I told myself just to hold my serve, and try and be aggressive on his serve and hopefully get a break.

"I also applied more topspin on my forehand. Once I won the second game after being 0-30 down, my confidence also went up."

Federer said he was happy with his game despite his loss.

"I think Nadal deserved to win because he played so consistent. I started off really well, but sprayed a little toward the end," Federer said. "But I am very happy with my game right now. And hopefully, I will pay him back soon."

Federer was sublime in the opening set, winning 6-2 in 28 minutes. Federer served well and went to the net successfully on several occasions.

Then Nadal advanced to the net in the second set, and his passing shots actually got by Federer.

Nadal made the all-important break in the ninth game, passing an advancing Federer, who gave the Spaniard three break points with two volleys in the net.

In the third set, Nadal broke Federer in the first game, capitalizing with a backhand crosscourt shot on a deep volley.

Federer evened it in the fourth with a forehand down the line on the run. Nadal converted a break point in the ninth game, when Federer hit his forehand volley wide. Nadal then served for the match.

In the doubles final, second-seeded Paul Hanley of Australia and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe beat the top-seeded Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada 1-6, 6-2, 10-1 in the tiebreaker.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press