Alongside great matches at the ATP Finals in London, we have had refreshed stories and opinions about the best-of-five encounters at Majors and in the Masters 1000 and ATP Finals events. Novak Djokovic would love to see the best-of-three matches at Majors in the future, while Rafael Nadal - together with Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev - wouldn't change anything.
Unlike at Majors, the Spaniard can't see the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals anymore, especially when we have back-to-back tournaments. Recalling his brilliant victories over Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer in Rome 2005 and 2006, Rafa said they both lasted for over five hours, preventing the players to show up in the next week's Hamburg event.
That outstanding Rome 2006 final - the best match of all time for many - was the final nail in the coffin for the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals, with the last title match of that kind coming in Miami 2007. Nadal needed five hours and five minutes to oust Federer 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) and defend the title in Rome, with both players giving their 120% from start to finish.
The Spaniard was already one of the greatest clay-courters ever at 19. However, Roger entered this final with positive vibes after pushing Rafa to the limits in Monte Carlo a month earlier, ready to make another strong challenge in Rome and fight for the title he was missing.
The Swiss was on level terms with the Spaniard and had a massive chance to steal the triumph, leading 4-1 in the final set and squandering two match points on the return in the 12th game and a 5-3 lead in the deciding tie break!
As always, Nadal refused to surrender and overcame all the obstacles to win one of the most important matches of his career and lift already the sixth Masters 1000 title, all before turning 20!
Rafael Nadal needed more than five hours to beat Roger Federer in Rome 2006.
It was Nadal's 53rd straight win on clay, tying Guillermo Vilas' Open era record and securing the 13th consecutive victory in the ATP finals since another epic title match against Roger in Miami a year earlier.
Rome was Nadal's 16th and last ATP title as a teenager, standing up there with Bjorn Borg at the top of the record list. Roger won five points more than Rafa and did almost everything right, saving six out of nine break points and defending the second serve to stay competitive, just failing to cross the finish line first.
The Swiss was in attacking mode, using every opportunity to impose his forehand and break Nadal's rhythm with constant net rushings, claiming a staggering 64 out of 84 points at the net. World no. 1 had a small advantage in the shortest points and followed Nadal's numbers in the more extended rallies, only to fall short in the encounter's closing stages when his forehand let him down.
Rafa never gave up, finding the way to push Roger's backhand to the limits to get back to the positive side in the deciding set. A teenager stayed focused while facing those match points to notch one of his dearest triumphs.
"We changed the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals to the best-of-three in 2007, if I'm not wrong. I had to play two marathon finals in Rome in 2005 and 2006 against Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer, and I couldn't play in Rome a week later.
With back-to-back Masters 1000 finals, it makes sense to have the best-of-three finals, and that's why we changed that. On the other hand, I'm completely against that at Majors; we have a day off there, and those tournaments are a big part of our history.
To endure seven best-of-five encounters and win the title, a player has to stay mentally and physically strong for two weeks, and that's the right thing to do."