Rafael Nadal claimed the first Masters 1000 title at 18 in Monte Carlo 2005, returning as the top favorite a year later. Many things had changed in the past 12 months, and Nadal was now a Major champion, world no. 2 and the most dangerous rival of the dominant Roger Federer.
These two met in the Monte Carlo final in 2006, providing one of the best and most exciting encounters they have played (an even better one was about to come in Rome a few weeks later). Nadal prevailed 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 in three hours and 50 minutes to notch the fourth win over Federer in five clashes!
Roger gave his best to topple his young rival, creating 18 break chances but converting only four, also missing an opportunity to at least send the match into a decider and make this last best-of-five final in the Principality even more memorable!
Rafa had the edge in the crucial moments, breaking Roger's serve on seven occasions from 14 chances and sealing the deal in the fourth set's 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, increasing the lead to 3-0 after the Swiss' weak backhand. Nadal had to save two break chances in game four and keep his serve intact, moving 4-0 ahead after Roger's another unforced error.
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 to prolong the action. A service winner denied Nadal's second set point, and it was an important game for Roger in terms of the entire match.
Despite those chances he wasted, Rafa was the better player on the court, holding at love in game eight to wrap up the opener in 42 minutes and hoping for more of the same for the rest of the encounter.
Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in just under four hours in Monte Carlo 2006.
The second set started with six easy holds, and that all changed in game seven when Rafa broke at love following Federer's loose forehand.
The Swiss held at love at 3-5 to prolong this part of the match and fended off a set point on Nadal's serve in the next one to notch his first break and level the score at 5-5, looking much better on the court than 20 minutes ago.
Roger served great in the tie break and delivered an ace in the ninth point to grab it 7-2 and lock the overall result before set number three, mighty relieved about this outcome. Nadal struggled in those moments, and Roger broke at the beginning of the third set as well to continue his great run, only to miss game points and give serve away after a terrible smash in game two, in what had been one of the worst shots he hit for the entire day.
Nadal erased a break chance at 3-3 when Federer netted a backhand, making 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, getting broken again at the start of the fourth set when his forehand landed miles away from the court.
A forehand down the line winner earned another break for Nadal in game three, and that pushed him closer to the trophy, looking good to seal the deal in the next half an hour. 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, getting back on the scoreboard 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 the early advantage, determined to secure the victory before the decider.
He set up a tie break after an excellent service game at 5-6, and 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. Nadal's smash winner made the result even at 4-4, and another mini-break was just around the corner when Roger's routine forehand could only found the net.
A fantastic backhand down the line winner gave Rafa the first match point at 5-5, and he painted a forehand winner to seal the deal and defend the title won 12 months ago, continuing his dominance over world no. 1 and on clay and in general, still before turning 20.
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