Novak Djokovic recalls: ‘I had chances against Roger Federer in our first match’

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have met numerous times on the ATP Tour, battling for the most notable titles worldwide. Their most recent match came at the last year’s Australian Open, and it could be their last meeting due to Roger’s knee issues that have been bothering him for 19 months. Their first match came in Monte Carlo 15 years ago, when Federer prevailed over the youngster 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 in an hour and 49 minutes. Novak gained over 100 positions on the ATP ranking list in 2005 and set eyes on higher goals in the following season. The Serb qualified for the main draw in the Principality and faced the world’s leading player for the first time. They had a similar number of unforced errors, and Djokovic pushed Federer’s backhand to the limits to force many errors from that wing. However, that was not enough to keep him safe, losing energy in the decider to propel world no. 1 over the top.

Federer served at 53% but experienced only two loose service games in that set he lost, with Novak failing to reach at least a deuce in the remaining return games! The pressure was on the Serb in sets one and three, and he could not endure it, getting broken three times from 11 chances offered to Federer to hit the exit door despite a solid effort. The Swiss had a 22-14 advantage in service winners, and a 25-20 in the winners from the field department, creating a buffer that kept him safe from those 20 forced errors he committed, as nothing separated them in the unforced mistakes. Roger had a massive 52-39 advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes thanks to those unreturned serves and the first groundstroke, while Djokovic stayed in touch in the mid-range exchanges and had a 10-6 lead in the most extended ones.

Novak Djokovic lost to Roger Federer in their first match in Monte Carlo 2006.

Federer converted the fifth break chance to gain an early advantage in the third game and delivered another break at 5-3 to secure the opener in swift 33 minutes. Playing on a much higher level in set number two, Novak broke Roger in games three and seven, serving well and dominating from the baseline to clinch it 6-2 and gain momentum ahead of the decider. Still, the youngster started to struggle physically, spraying more errors in the third set’s second game than in the entire second set to get broken and lose steam. Federer served well in the rest of the clash and held at 5-3 to secure the first victory over Novak. 

“I’m delighted with the way I played against Roger. On the other hand, I’m a little disappointed because I knew I had a chance to beat him. A couple of points decided the winner, and I had the opportunity to prevail. Federer played his first match on clay this year, while I already scored two qualifying victories. Anyway, it was a significant experience for me, and my confidence will grow, knowing that I played on a high level. I’m still young, and I need more encounters like this to learn how to play against the rivals from the top,” Novak Djokovic said.