‘I beat Roger Federer, and something had to change’

The best-of-five Masters 1000 finals are long gone, with no title match in that format since Miami 2007. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played an epic encounter in Rome 2006 that pretty much slammed the door for the best-of-five finals, as the rivals could not recover for the next week’s duties.

Recalling his brilliant victories over Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer at Foro Italico in 2005 and 2006, Rafa reminded they both lasted for over five hours. He and his opponent spent too much energy and failed to recover and show up in the next week’s Hamburg event.

That outstanding 2006 title match – the best of all time for many – was the final nail in the coffin for the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals. 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 Rome title, with both giving 120% from start to finish.

The Spaniard was already one of the greatest clay-courters at 19. However, Roger entered this final with positive vibes after pushing Rafa to the limits in Monte Carlo a month earlier. The Swiss felt ready to make another strong challenge in Rome and fight for the title he was missing in his collection.

Roger matched Rafa’s pace and had a massive chance to steal the triumph. He led 4-1 in the final set and squandered 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.

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. Also, he secured 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.

The Swiss was in the 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 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.

Rafa never gave up, finding a 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 Rome finals in 2005 and 2006 against Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer, and I could not play in Hamburg a week later.

With back-to-back Masters 1000 finals, it makes sense to have the best-of-three finals; that’s why we changed that. On the other hand, I’m completely against that at Majors; we have a day off, and those tournaments are a big part of our history,” Rafael Nadal said.

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