Rafael Nadal claimed the first Masters 1000 title at 18 in Monte Carlo 2005 and returned 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 and provided one of the best and most exciting encounters they have played. 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. He missed an opportunity to send the match into a decider and make the 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. The Swiss had the upper hand in the shortest points, but that was not enough to carry him over the finish line.
Nadal reigned 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 after Roger’s double fault and increased the lead to 3-0 after the Swiss’ weak backhand.
Nadal saved two break chances in game four and kept his serve intact after Federer’s unforced error. From a break point down, Roger 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 Rafa’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. He held at love in game eight to wrap up the opener in 42 minutes and hoped 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 Roger’s loose forehand. The Swiss held at love at 3-5 to prolong the set 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.
Federer 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 the outcome. Nadal struggled in those moments, and Federer broke at the beginning of the third set to continue his excellent run.
The Swiss missed game points and gave serve away after a terrible smash in game two, one of the worst shots he hit for the entire day. Nadal erased a break chance at 3-3 when Federer netted a backhand and made 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 the next one 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.
Federer lost the ground in the last ten minutes, and he got 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, which pushed him closer to the trophy.
Roger was not to be denied, though, and he fired a forehand winner in game four to pull one break back. Nadal held at love in game six for a 4-2 advantage and another step towards the finish line. 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.
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. He set up a tie break after an excellent service game at 5-6, and Roger opened a 3-0 and 4-2 lead, 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 Federer’s routine forehand found the net. A fantastic backhand down the line winner gave Rafa the first match point at 5-5. He painted a forehand winner to seal the deal and defend the title, still at 19.