At the 2020 ATP Finals in London, players had a chance to share their thoughts about the everlasting subject of the best-of-five encounters outside Majors. Novak Djokovic wished to see the best-of-three matches at Majors in the future, while Rafael Nadal – alongside Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev – did not want to change anything. The Spaniard could no longer see the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals, unlike Majors, especially at back-to-back tournaments. Recalling his brilliant victories over Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer in Rome 2005 and 2006, Rafa said they both lasted for over five hours. The marathons prevented the players from showing up in the next week’s Hamburg event. That outstanding Rome 2006 title match – the best clash of all time for many – was the final nail in the coffin for the best-of-five Masters 1000 finals, and the last title match in that format came in Miami 2007.
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 players 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. He was ready to make another strong challenge in Rome and fight for the missing title. The Swiss was on level terms with the Spaniard 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! Nadal refused to surrender, and he 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 over five hours to beat Roger Federer in Rome 2006.
It was Nadal’s 53rd straight win on clay, tying Guillermo Vilas’ Open era record. 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 and earn his chances. The Swiss was in attacking mode, using every opportunity to impose his forehand and break Rafa’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 and found a way to push Roger’s backhand to the limits and 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, and 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. To endure seven best-of-five encounters and win the title, a player has to stay mentally and physically strong for two weeks, and that’s the right thing to do,” Rafael Nadal said.