On this day: Rafael Nadal downs Roger Federer to defend Roland Garros crown


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On this day: Rafael Nadal downs Roger Federer to defend Roland Garros crown

A year after their semi-final clash at 2005 Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were the players to beat on clay again in the next season, playing for the crown in Monte Carlo and Rome (one of the greatest matches of all time) before setting another title match at Roland Garros.

Nadal, who just turned 20, was the defending champion while Roger played in his first final in Paris, looking to complete a career Grand Slam at the age of 24 and enter the record books as the third player who held all four Majors after Don Budge and Rod Laver!

It was another classic encounter between two most excellent players in the world and after three hours and two minutes it was Nadal who emerged as a winner on June 11, coming from a set down to score a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 triumph and lift the second Grand Slam title at such a young age and notch his 60th straight ATP win on clay!

Rafa won 12 points more than Roger, serving at 77% and saving seven out of ten break points, getting broken only once after a loose opening set. On the other hand, Roger had to play against 12 break chances and gave serve away four times, staying in touch with great rival until the very last point and just missing the opportunity to send the encounter into a deciding set.

Roger did his best to stay on the same level with Rafa but, as usual in their clashes, finished the match with too many unforced errors, unable to control his backhand against the powerful forehands from the other side of the net.

The shortest rallies up to four strokes were the dominant segment of the match and Nadal managed to gain the crucial advantage in them. Federer was on the level terms with the Spaniard in the more extended exchanges although it wasn't enough to give him the edge or to force the deciding set.

The Swiss had to work hard right from the start, saving two break points in the opening game to avoid an early setback with a service winner, breaking Rafa in game two for the best possible start. A forehand drive volley sent Roger 3-0 up and everything was on his racquet by now, earning another break a few minutes later and fending off three break points to go 5-0 up when Rafa sprayed a forehand error.

The defending champion had to react as quickly as possible, making his first hold in game six to reduce the deficit, too late to do something more in the opening set after a hold at love from Roger who wrapped up the opener 6-1.

Rafa had to raise the level and he took the momentum out from Roger with a nice hold at the start of the second set, clinching an important break in game two from being 40-0 down! Instead of another commanding service game, Roger got broken when Nadal's backhand crosscourt found an open space, with the drive switching to the side of the youngster now.

A backhand error from Federer sent Nadal 3-0 in front and the Swiss found himself 5-1 behind when his volley landed long in the sixth game. The set was in Nadal's hands after a service winner in the next game, getting himself on the right track and reducing the number of errors to mount the pressure on the other side of the net.

The Spaniard delivered a massive hold in game four of the third set, fending off four break points to get an even stronger boost and gain the mental advantage, breaking Roger's serve in game five after a terrible forehand from the world no.

1. A forehand winner cemented a break for Rafa in the sixth game, blasting another one at 4-3 to stay in front. Serving for the set, Nadal held at 15 in game ten after a backhand error from Roger and was now the favorite to bring the match home and extend the Parisian reign.

Rafa made the best possible start in set number four as well, scoring an instant break with a forehand winner and forging a 2-0 advantage with a service winner for another big step towards the title. Both players served well in the following games and Nadal had the opportunity to close the encounter on own serve at 5-4.

Roger was not to go away from the court without a fight, though, breaking back in the very last moment after a costly forehand mistake from Rafa to level the score at 5-5 and extend his chances. Two easy holds led them into a tie break and Roger earned the first mini-break after another forehand error from Nadal who looked shaky in those moments.

Out of sudden, Roger sprayed two unforced errors and that would have cost him a lot, losing the advantage and sending the momentum to Nadal's side of the net. An amazing defense pushed Rafa 5-2 up and he earned two match points with another good serve to Roger's backhand in the tenth point.

He converted the first with a forehand drive volley winner, falling to the ground and celebrating his biggest success in a career so far, admitting later that it was easier to win the title on debut than to defend it 12 months later.

We have to mention another encounter from Nadal's 2006 Roland Garros campaign, prevailing over Paul-Henri Mathieu 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in four hours and 53 minutes for one of his most serious tests ever in Paris and one of the most competitive four-setters in the history of tennis!