Nadal def. Federer: 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6,7-6
The Plot: Nadal had established himself as the King of Clay by winning his first French Open the year prior to this match, where he beat Federer in the semis. Two weeks before this Rome final Federer had lost to Nadal at the Masters series in Monaco in a somewhat lack-luster final. All the pressure was on Federer to show that he could beat Nadal on clay before the French Open.
The Match: Federer gets an early break in the 1st set but is unable to hold on to it. Nonetheless, it is clearly Federer who is in control of most rallies and he wins the 1st set in a flawlessly played tie-break.
However, Nadal raises the level of his game in the 2nd set and Federer's level drops slightly. With no breaks, the 2nd set goes to a tie-break, but Nadal is in the ascendancy now and takes it. In the 3rd set Nadal is dominating Federer in the rallies and Federer is missing some crucial forehands.
But just as one might expect that Federer is out the match, he returns to his better play from the 1st set. He breaks Nadal twice and takes the 4th set 6-2. He then goes on to get an early break in the 5th set, but just like the 1st set, he can't hold on to it. As things tighten up towards the end of the 5th set, both men have chances, but none greater than Federer, who holds two match points on Nadals serve at 6-5. Nadal survives to send the set to a deciding tiebreak. Federer again is up in the breaker on two occasions but can't hold on - and Nadal wins it 7-5 on his first match point.
The bottom line: This is no doubt the best ATP match played in 2006 and is in many ways the great French Open final between the two that we never had. The level of play is sky-high, Federer is attacking the net with great success and Nadal hits topspin forehands like no one but Nadal does. It makes for a nice contrast in playing style. My only criticism is perhaps that the match is a little monotonous with many of the points following similar patterns, and that the slow clay doesn't allow Federer to hit as many miraculous winners as you see on faster surfaces. Nonetheless, this match is likely to go down as the best match the two ever played, and it is highly recommended.
Stat of the match: Federer won 64 of 84 points when he came to the net (76%).