April 23, 2006: Rafael Nadal edges Roger Federer in epic Monte Carlo final

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April 23, 2006: Rafael Nadal edges Roger Federer in epic Monte Carlo final

As we all know, Rafael Nadal has won his first Masters 1000 title at the age 18 in Monte Carlo 2005, and he was the top favorite to defend the crown a year later. A lot of things have changed in the last 12 months and Nadal was now a Grand Slam champion and world number 2, standing as the biggest rival of the dominant Roger Federer.

These two have met in Monte Carlo final in 2006 and it turned out to be one of the best and most interesting matches they have played (an even better one was about to come in Rome a few weeks later), with Nadal prevailing 6-2 6-7 6-3 7-6 in 3 hours and 50 minutes to notch his fourth win over Federer in five matches! Roger gave his best to topple his young rival, creating 18 break points but converting only four and missing a chance to at least send the match into a decider and make this final even more memorable, as it was the last ever in Monte Carlo with the best-of-five format.

Rafa had the edge in the crucial moments, breaking Roger's serve on seven occasions from 14 break points he battled for and he sealed the deal in the fourth set tie break to avoid further struggle and a potential surprise in the decider.

The Spaniard kicked off the match with a break when Roger hit a double fault and he increased his lead to 3-0 after a poor backhand from the Swiss who was yet to find his shots. Nadal had to save two break points in game four and he kept his serve intact, moving 4-0 ahead after another unforced error from Roger.

From a break point down, Federer finally held in game five with a forehand winner to get his name on the scoreboard and he saved a set point in game seven thanks to another forehand winner. A service winner denied Nadal's second set point and it was an important game for Roger in the spirit of the entire match after saving those three set points to reduce the deficit to 5-2.

Rafa was clearly the better player and he held at love in game eight top wrap up the opener in 42 minutes, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the match. The second set started with six easy holds and that all changed in game seven when Rafa broke at love following a poor forehand from Federer.

Serving to stay in the set in game nine, Roger held at love to prolong this part of the match and he saved a set point on Nadal's serve in the following game to notch his first break of the match, leveling the score at 5-5 and gathering the momentum despite the fact he was in a very tough position.

Federer served great in the tie break and he delivered an ace in the ninth point to grab the breaker 7-2 and level the overall score before the set number three. Nadal has struggled in those moments and Roger broke at the start of the third set as well to continue his great run, only to miss game points and give his serve away after a terrible smash in game two, in what has been one of the worst shots he hit the entire day.

Nadal saved a break point in game seven when Federer netted a backhand and the Spaniard made an important hold after another shaky groundstroke from his opponent. That game proved to be even more critical when Rafa fired a backhand cross court winner in game eight to steal Roger's serve and get a chance to serve for the set in the game that followed.

He delivered a good hold and the set was in his hands after a grueling hour of play, moving a set away from the triumph. Federer lost the ground in the last 10 minutes and he got broken again at the start of the fourth set when his forehand landed miles away from the court, allowing his rival to control the pace and the scoreboard.

A forehand down the line winner earned another break for Nadal in game three and he was closer and closer to the finish line. Roger was not to be denied, though, firing a forehand winner in game four to pull one break back but Nadal held at love in game six for a 4-2 advantage.

The match was still pretty much on when the Swiss broke back in game eight, leveling the score at 4-4 and giving the crowd something to cheer about as they certainly wanted to see more of these two. Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Nadal held at love and that was very important for him after wasting his lead earlier in the set.

He set up the tie break after a solid hold in game 12 but Roger opened up a 3-0 and 4-2 lead, looking good to send the match into a decider. A smash winner from Nadal made the result eve at 4-4 and the Spaniard got another mini-break when Roger's routine forehand could only find the net.

An amazing backhand down the line winner gave Rafa the first match point at 5-5 and he hurled a forehand winner to complete his win and defend the title he won 12 months ago, continuing his dominance over the world number 1 before even turning 20.

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