Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic forged one of the greatest rivalries in the game's history, with the first meeting coming in Monte Carlo 2006. By the will of the draw, it was the first-round encounter as Novak was ranked 67th, playing only his fifth Masters 1000 event in a career after passing two qualifying rounds.
The match lasted an hour and 49 minutes, and Roger scored a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 triumph en route to his first Monte Carlo final. It was a solid encounter with many beautiful shots on both sides, with Federer having the upper hand in sets one and three to move into the next round and avoid an upset.
The Serb showed the complete arsenal of his shots in set number two but couldn't repeat that in the remaining parts of the clash, allowing Roger to control the scoreboard and cross the finish line first. They had a similar number of unforced errors, and Novak pushed Federer's backhand to the limits to force almost as twice mistakes from his rival.
However, that wasn't enough to take him over the top, as he lost stamina and energy in the decider. Federer served at 53% and played only two loose service games in set number two, with Novak unable to reach at least a deuce in the remaining return games.
That kept the pressure on the Serb, who couldn't endure it, dropping 40% of the points behind the initial shot to face 11 break chances. He repelled eight of those and limited the damage, but Roger was safe and dry with three breaks on his tally.
The Swiss had a 22-14 advantage in service winners and a 25-20 in the winners from the field department. Roger hit 12 forehand winners and seven from the backhand wing, which is always essential against solid baseliners. At the same time, Djokovic claimed nine from his backhand, which was already a rock-solid shot, and six from volleys.
Interestingly, Roger made more mistakes from his forehand side, especially after the first set, ending the match with 24 unforced errors.
Novak Djokovic shared thoughts about the first clash vs. Federer in 2006.
Djokovic stood on 25, missing equally from both the forehand and backhand.
As we already said, Federer made more forced errors, 20 in comparison to Novak's 11, but that couldn't jeopardize his triumph. Over half of the points were wrapped up in the shortest segment up to four strokes, and Roger had a clear 52-39 advantage in them, mainly thanks to those service winners.
That pretty much earned the victory for him since nothing could separate them in the mid-range points from five to eight strokes where they were all square at 30-30. Djokovic claimed ten of 16 most extended rallies, but that couldn't stand as a game-changer, incapable of bringing more points up to this area where he would have the edge.
"At the beginning of the third set, I was eager to continue where I left in the second, playing on a very high level in that part of the match and having things under my control. Still, Roger started playing more aggressively; I went two meters behind the baseline, maybe without enough courage to go for the winners.
In the end, two or three balls decided who would have the advantage at the beginning of the final set, which was crucial. I had chances in the first couple of games and couldn't seize them, something you have to do against the world's leading player like Roger. He played smart in the rest of the clash, and I made some mistakes that cost me dearly," Novak Djokovic said.