Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had numerous epic battles between 2004 and 2019. One of their most thrilling encounters came at the 2006 Rome Masters. The top seeds met in the title clash and produced one of the greatest matches in the Open era!
The defending champion Nadal prevailed 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in five hours and five minutes after fending off two match points
. Twelve months after prevailing over Guillermo Coria in another five-setter, the Spaniard gave everything to oust the world’s leading player and defend the trophy.
Federer pushed Nadal to the limits in Monte Carlo a few weeks earlier and gave his everything at Foro Italico. The victory barely slipped away from Roger’s hands. He led 4-1 in the final set and squandered two match points on the return at 6-5 and a 5-3 lead in the deciding tie break!
As always, Rafa refused to surrender. He overcame all the obstacles to win one of the most important matches of his career and lift already his sixth Masters 1000 title before turning 20! It was Nadal’s 53rd straight win on clay, tying Guillermo Vilas’ Open era record.
Also, the young gun conquered his 13th consecutive triumph in the ATP finals since another epic title match against Roger in Miami a year earlier. Rome was Rafa’s 16th and last ATP title as a teenager, which puts him up there with Bjorn Borg at the top of the record list.
Knowing all this, we should focus on this fantastic final and examine how Nadal emerged as a winner in one of the toughest tests he has ever experienced. Roger eventually won five points more than Rafa and did almost everything right on the court.
He saved six out of nine break points and defended the second serve to stay in touch with Nadal in the entire match, just missing crossing the finish line first. The Swiss was in fully 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.
Also, world no. 1 had a slight 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.
Rafael Nadal needed over five hours to beat Roger Federer in the 2006 Rome final.
Rafa never gave up, finding a way to push Roger’s backhand to the limits to return to the positive side of the scoreboard in the deciding set.
He stayed focused while facing those match points to notch one of his dearest wins of the Tour. Roger was a better player at the start of the match, breaking in game four for a 3-1 lead when Rafa hit a backhand long. The Spaniard responded with a backhand down the line winner that earned the break back in game five.
They stayed neck and neck until game 12, when Nadal served to stay in the set. Digging deep, he fended off two set points and reached a tie break with a forehand winner for a great escape. It was all about Roger in the breaker, winning it 7-0 after a volley winner that gave him confidence ahead of the rest of the clash.
Nothing could separate the rivals in set number two until game ten when Nadal created a set point on the return, rejected by Federer’s perfect volley. The latter brought the game home with another excellent half-volley to level the score at 5-5 and increase the drama.
Like the opener, the set went into a tie break. The Swiss had a 4-2 lead before spraying two forehand errors, spoiling an opportunity to move two sets to love in front and make things even more challenging for the defending champion.
Roger made another significant forehand error at 5-5 to offer his rival a set point. Rafa closed the set after Roger’s backhand mistake to extend the drama and excitement after over two hours of grueling battle. Federer saved a break chance in the third set’s third game.
However, Nadal passed him with a crosscourt backhand winner at 2-2 to grab the lead. He cemented it a few minutes later following Roger’s huge backhand slice error. The Spaniard served for the set in game ten and delivered a super fine hold at love after the Swiss’ backhand mistake, taking two sets to one advantage and moving closer to the finish line.
Federer was in all kinds of trouble at the start of the fourth set. He saved two break points to avoid a setback and earned a break point in game four after a forehand winner. Rafa repelled it with a service winner but could not do the same on the second when Roger docked a forehand down the line winner that moved him 3-1 in front.
The Swiss held in game five after a forehand winner, and the set was in his hands when Nadal sprayed a backhand error at 2-5. The Spaniard lost serve for the second time, and they enrolled the decider after three hours and 45 minutes of outstanding tennis.
With momentum on his side, Roger broke in the fourth game. He fended off two break points in the next one to open a 4-1 gap, standing in an excellent position to dethrone his great rival and deliver Nadal’s first loss on clay after 52 straight wins!
With his back pushed against the wall, Rafa held at love with a forehand winner in game six. The young gun stayed in touch with Roger a few minutes later and erased the Swiss’ game point that could have sent him 5-2 up. Nadal broke back after Federer’s backhand error and held after deuce in game eight to level the score at 4-4 and gain a massive boost.
However, Federer did not stop there, creating two match points on the return in game 12 that could have delivered his first Rome Masters crown! His forehand could not carry him in those pivotal moments. He made two easy mistakes from his more substantial wing and squandered a massive opportunity before Rafa blasted a forehand winner to set up the deciding tie break and gather momentum.
Finding himself 4-2 down, the Spaniard struck a beautiful forehand before Roger gained a 5-3 advantage, moving two points away from victory. His forehand cost him dearly again, netting a routine shot that could have brought him three match points!
Instead, Nadal climbed back to 5-5 after yet another marvelous rally he controlled with his forehand. A service winner gave Nadal his first match point. He completed the triumph with Federer’s forced error to celebrate the most significant moment of his young career besides the 2005 Roland Garros crown, earning a place among tennis immortals a few weeks before his 20th birthday.