Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer met for the fourth time in the 2006 Dubai final. The young Spaniard scored a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph in an hour and 53 minutes for his 13th ATP title and the fourth in a row on hard courts. Also, Nadal ended Federer's Open era record of 56 consecutive hard-court wins that kicked off in Rotterdam 2005!
It was their first duel since the last year's Roland Garros semi-final, and Rafa bounced back after a slow start to claim sets two and three. A foot injury forced Nadal to skip all the events between Madrid at the end of 2005 and Marseille in February 2006.
Dubai was only his second tournament on a comeback trail, and the Spaniard was motivated to play at 120% and chase the trophy. Roger was in a league of his own in the first set before Rafa found a way to make a counter-attack in set number two, prevailing and securing one of the most significant wins of the season.
Thanks to that opening set, Federer won seven points more than Nadal. However, he got broken in the ninth game of sets two and three to find himself on the losing side after winning three consecutive Dubai crowns. They scored three breaks of serve, and Nadal arranged his winning return games better to emerge as a winner.
The Spaniard served at 70% and needed that against such a strong rival. He stayed in touch in his service games after the first set and patiently waited for a chance on the return. Roger had better percentages on the first and second serve.
Still, those two late breaks he suffered cost him dearly, having no time to pull them back and extend the encounter. Nadal followed Federer's pace in the shortest rallies. He hit well after the serve or with his first groundstroke on the return and outplayed Roger in the mid-range exchanges up to eight or nine strokes.
Surprisingly, Federer had a clear edge in the points with ten strokes or more, although that was not enough to cross the finish line and extend the unbeaten Dubai run.
Rafael Nadal took down Roger Federer in the 2006 Dubai final.
The defending champion had the match in his hands right from the start, winning four points in a row on the return in game two for a 2-0 lead and cementing the break with a crosscourt forehand winner that sent him further in front.
Nadal was powerless on the return in the entire set. The pressure was on his side, and he lost serve at love in game eight to drop the opener 6-2 in just 28 minutes. Roger was on a roll, setting the pace with his forehand and punishing every shorter ball from his opponent.
The Swiss created a 30-0 lead on the return in the second set's second game, eager to extend his run. Rafa delivered four good points for a pivotal hold that gave him the necessary confidence. He finally created a break chance in game five when Roger netted a backhand.
The Swiss saved it to keep his serve intact. However, he could not do the same at 4-4 when Nadal broke at love with a forehand winner to move ahead and serve for the set. The Spaniard held at 30 after the Swiss' volley error to force a decider and improve his chances.
Nadal broke again at the beginning of the decider with a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner, establishing himself as the ruler on the court and the favorite. Federer restored his shots and was back on level terms with a break in game four, confirming it with a hold at love a few minutes later for a 3-2 advantage.
They both served well in the next three games to stay locked at 4-4. The crucial moment occurred in game nine when Roger sprayed a forehand error to drop serve and move Rafa a game away from the championship. World no. 2 needed no second invitation, completing his triumph with a hold at love in game ten to celebrate the title after Roger's forced backhand error.
The Spaniard lifted the trophy, which brought tears during the ceremony, mighty relieved he was back on the winning way for the first time since October last year and after such a long break.
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