- 23 Jul 2020
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, July 23, 2006, Novak Djokovic, aged 19, claimed his maiden title on the ATP Tour, in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. In his first final, the Serbian, who was already ranked No 36 and was the No 4 seed at the tournament, defeated former Olympic champion Nicolas Massu, from Chile, 7-6, 6-4. It was the first of 79 titles claimed in the next 14 years by Djokovic, who would become of the greatest players of all time.
Novak Djokovic was born in 1987. He broke into the top 100 in 2005, finishing the year as world No 83. In 2006, he made a name for himself by reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros while ranked only No 63, after he beat world No 9 Fernando Gonzalez in the second round. Young Nole never hid his great ambition. After he had to retire against Rafael Nadal, while the Spaniard was up two sets to none, the Serbian drew attention during his press conference with a pretty bold statement: “I felt like I was in control, everything depended on me”. A few weeks later, he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, defeating world No 8 Tommy Robredo in the second round (7-6, 6-2, 6-4) and only falling in five sets against a great grass-court player, Mario Ancic (6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3). This helped him climb to No 36 on the ATP charts. Aged 19, he was definitely one of the main rising stars of the game.
Nicolas Massu, from Chile, was born in 1979. He broke into the top 100 at the end of 1999 and he reached his first final on the Tour in 2000, in Orlando, before claiming the first of his six titles in 2002, in Buenos Aires (defeating Agustin Calleri in the final, 2-6, 7-6, 6-2). His best season on the Tour was 2004. That year, after claiming the most important ATP title in his career, in Kitzbuhel, Massu left a print in sporting history. At the Olympic Games, in Athens, he became the first Chilean athlete to ever obtain a gold medal, edging Mardy Fish in the final (6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4), before winning the doubles event as well, partnering Gonzalez. A few weeks later, Massu, nicknamed “Vampiro” (the Vampire), reached his career highest ranking as world No 9. In July 2006, the Chilean was ranked No 37 in the world.
The Dutch Open had existed since 1957, and, until 1994, was held every year, in summer, in Hilversum. In 1995, the Dutch Open moved to Amsterdam, but was still played on clay. Then, in 2002, the tournament left Amsterdam for Amersfoort. Although it was not one of the biggest tournaments in terms of prize money, great players often attended the event, attracted by the possibility to spend more time on clay. Its champions included Guillermo Vilas (1973, 1974), Marcelo Rios (1995), and Gonzalez (2005).
In 2006, Djokovic was one of the young rising stars of tennis, along with his rival Andy Murray. After reaching the Roland-Garros quarter-finals and the fourth round at Wimbledon, Nole was well-known by the general public. World No 36, he was seeded no.4 in Amersfoort. After dismissing lower-ranked opponents in his first three rounds, without dropping a single set, he beat the No 1 seed, Guillermo Coria, in the semi-final, who was suffering from a neck injury (6-2, 1-0 ret). Facing Massu in the final, Djokovic had a good opportunity to win the first tournament of his career.
Djokovic, who still wore Adidas clothes and still used Wilson rackets, did not seem overwhelmed at the start of his first ATP final, and the 19-year-old broke first, soon leading 4-1. Still, even if Massu was not the top 10 player he was two years before, he had enough experience to remain calm and the Chilean managed to level the scores. Djokovic was pushed into a tie-break, which he won 7-5 after one hour, 23 minutes of play.
Massu took control of the second set, taking Djokovic’s serve to lead 4-2. Djokovic, showing the fighting spirit that would make him one of the greatest players of all time, not only fought back, but he even won the four next games to seal the victory, 7-6, 6-4. Djokovic had just clinched his maiden title, and no one doubted that there were many more to come.
Novak Djokovic would claim a second title in 2006, in Metz, edging Jurgen Melzer in the final (4-6, 6-3, 6-2). The next year, he would break into the top three, winning two Masters 1000 events, reaching the semi-finals at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon (defeated each time by Nadal), and finishing runner-up to Roger Federer at the US Open (7-6, 7-6, 6-4). Then, at the 2008 Australian Open, Djokovic would claim the first of 17 Grand Slam titles, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final (4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6). By 2020, the Serbian would have lifted 79 trophies on the Tour.
Massu would leave the top 50 for ever in early 2007. He would slowly decline until his official retirement, in 2013. In 2019, Massu would become Dominic Thiem’s coach.
In 2009, the Dutch Open license would be bought by…Novak Djokovic, who would transfer the tournament to Serbia. This would be the beginning of the Belgrade Open, which was held a few weeks after Wimbledon, from 2009 to 2013.
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