David Naldbandian earned a 0.35 winning percentage (11-20) against the ‘Big Three’ of Novak Djokovic (1-4), Roger Federer (8-11) and Rafael Nadal (2-5) in his career. But over the course of three magical days in 2007, the Argentine beat them consecutively.
Entering that year’s Mutua Madrid Open — which at the time was held in October — Nalbandian had only made one quarter-final all season, and that came more than five months earlier on Barcelona’s clay. The ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid was played on hard through 2008.
Nalbandian became the first player to defeat Nadal, Djokovic and Federer in the same tournament, doing so to win his first Masters 1000 title. First up was Nadal, who he had never previously faced. The Spaniard was World No. 2, and Nalbandian was unseeded, but the Argentine broke five times en route to a 6-1, 6-2 quarter-final win after only 71 minutes.
“Everything went right for me today,” Nalbandian said, according to Reuters. “I took advantage of all Rafa’s errors and he never felt comfortable, but I felt I played really well.”
Djokovic, who had recently cruised past Nalbandian in Montreal, was next. But Nalbandian was in far better form this time around.
“Sometimes you play bad and he was on a roll. He won against Rafa and a lot of good players this week, so obviously he had a lot of confidence on the court and you could see that,” Djokovic said.
Nalbandian earned his only victory of their ATP Head2Head series, saving the two break points he faced in a 6-4, 7-6(4) triumph. The 2005 Tennis Masters Cup champion earned another shot at maiden Masters 1000 glory, after falling short on three previous occasions.
“This is a very important win for me as I haven’t had a good year,” Nalbandian said. “I had some physical problems this year but I’ve been working hard, regained confidence, and today I got the reward on the court.”
It would not get any easier against Federer, who had won their previous five matches. But Nalbandian had a date with destiny, rallying past the top seed 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 for the trophy.
“I was very focussed, knowing I’d have to play incredibly to win and everything went right for me,” Nalbandian said. “It was a big boost for me to beat so many good players here this week.”
To this day, nobody else has beaten the ‘Big Three’ at the same tournament. Even then, Federer knew it was an impressive accomplishment.
“I guess when you beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back you come into the final feeling better than ever,” said Federer. “It was a pity I couldn’t stop him today.”