As we all know, Rafael Nadal had won his first Masters 1000 title at the age 18 in Monte Carlo 2005, being the top favorite to defend the crown a year later. A lot of things had changed in the last 12 months and Nadal was now a Grand Slam champion and world no.
2, also as the most dangerous rival of the dominant Roger Federer. These two had met in Monte Carlo final in 2006 and it turned out to be one of the best and most exciting 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 three hours and 50 minutes to notch the fourth win over Federer in five matches!
Roger gave his best to topple his young rival, creating 18 break points but converting only four of those, also missing a chance to at least send the match into a decider and make this final even more memorable, in what was the last ever best-of-five one in the Principality.
Rafa had the edge in the crucial moments, breaking Roger's serve on seven occasions from 14 break points he battled for and sealed the deal in the fourth set tie break to avoid further struggle and a potential surprise in the decider.
The Swiss had the upper hand in the shortest points but that wasn't enough to carry him over the finish line, with Nadal reigning in the mid-range and most extended exchanges on the slow Monte Carlo clay to earn the triumph and defend the title.
The Spaniard kicked off the match with a break when Roger hit a double fault and increased the lead to 3-0 after a weak backhand from the Swiss who was yet to find his shots. Nadal had to save two break points in game four and keep 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 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 terms of the entire match after saving those three set points and reducing the deficit to 5-2.
Rafa was the better player and he held at love in game eight to wrap up the opener in 42 minutes, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter. The second set started with six easy holds and that all changed in game seven when Rafa broke at love following a loose forehand from Federer who served to stay in the set at 3-5.
The Swiss held at love to prolong this part of the match and saved a set point on Nadal's serve in the next game to notch his first break, leveling the score at 5-5 and gathering the momentum despite the fact he was in a tricky position 20 minutes ago.
Federer served great in the tie break and delivered an ace in the ninth point to grab it 7-2 and level the overall score before the set number three. Nadal had 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 had 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 a significant hold after another shaky groundstroke from his opponent to hang in there. That game proved to be even more critical when Rafa fired a backhand crosscourt winner in game eight to steal Roger's serve and get a chance to serve for the set.
He delivered a good hold and the set was in his hands after a grueling hour of play, moving one step away from the finish line. Federer lost the ground in the last ten minutes and 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, looking good to seal the deal in the next 25 minutes or so. Roger was not to be denied, though, firing a forehand winner in game four to pull one break back before Nadal held at love in game six for a 4-2 advantage.
The match was still pretty much on when the Swiss broke back at 3-4, leveling the score 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, determined to secure the win before the decider.
He set up the tie break after an excellent service game at 5-6 although it was Roger who opened up a 3-0 and 4-2 lead in the breaker, giving his best to prevail and extend his chances to lift the trophy he was missing. A smash winner from Nadal made the result even at 4-4 and another mini-break was just around the corner when Roger's routine forehand could have only found the net.
An amazing backhand down the line winner gave Rafa the first match point at 5-5, painting a forehand winner to seal the deal and defend the title he won 12 months ago, continuing his dominance over the world no. 1 even before turning 20.