Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic forged one of the greatest rivalries in history in Monte Carlo 2006. By the draw's will, it was the first-round match, as Novak was ranked 67th and played only his fifth Masters 1000 event in a career.
The encounter 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, where he would lose to Rafael Nadal. 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.
Djokovic was one of the most promising youngsters on the Tour, finishing the season with 40 ATP wins and cracking the top-20 to find himself in a perfect position for an even more potent attack in 2007. The Serb showed the complete arsenal of his shots in set number two but couldn't repeat that in the remaining part of the clash, allowing Roger to control the scoreboard and move into the next round.
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 send him over the top, as he lost stamina and energy in the decider.
Federer served at 53% but 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 (they had just one ace each, and it is always better to look at the number of unreturned serves, as they provide a broader picture) and a 25-20 in the winners from the field.
He hit 12 forehand winners and seven from the backhand wing, which is always essential against solid baseliners.
Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic in their first match in Monte Carlo 2006.
At the same time, Djokovic claimed nine direct points from his backhand that 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, while 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 harm him enough to expose 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, 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 squared 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. Federer grabbed the first break in the third game, converting the fifth break chance after too many Djokovic's errors, who was still searching for the rhythm.
The Swiss landed four winners in the sixth game to remain in front, with Novak saving a break chance in the next game to stay within one break deficit. Serving to stay in the set at 3-5, Djokovic sprayed three errors to suffer another break and push Federer 6-3 in front after 33 minutes.
Raising his level, Novak broke Roger in games three and seven in set number two, forging a 5-2 advantage and securing it on his fourth set point in the next game after 32 minutes, looking good for more of the same in the decider.
If Novak could have kept that level, Roger would have been in all kinds of trouble in the final set, but that never happened, as the Serb started to struggle physically and lost the advantage he built in the previous set.
In the second game, Djokovic sprayed more errors than in the entire second set to give serve away, standing powerless on the return for the rest of the encounter and having to dig deep in service games as well. Serving well, Roger fired three winners in game seven to open a 5-2 gap, wasting a match point on the return a few minutes later but converting the fourth on serve at 5-3 after Djokovic's forehand error.
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