The signs were already there that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with—he had reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros earlier that year, and already had three Top 10 wins to his name. But it was at a small clay-court event in Amersfoort, Netherlands on July 23, 2006—exactly 15 years ago to this day—where a 19-year-old Novak Djokovic won his first ATP title, and thus began building what is now arguably the greatest tennis resume of all time.
Ranked No. 36 at the time, Djokovic was the No. 3 seed at the ATP 250-level event, and he slid through to the final without losing a set, including benefiting from a bit of a stroke of luck in the semis, advancing when No. 1 seed Guillermo Coria—one of the best clay-courters around, and a finalist at Roland Garros in 2004—had to retire down 6-2, 1-0 due to a shoulder injury.
Awaiting Djokovic in the final was No. 4 seed Nicolas Massu, best known for winning gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004. But he was one of the toughest clay-courters around, too, and he hadn’t lost a set en route to the final either, including a 7-5, 6-4 quarterfinal win over No.5 seed and 1998 Roland Garros champion Carlos Moya.
The final was an absolute battle. After Djokovic jumped out to a 4-1 lead, Massu won the next three games and even held double break point with Djokovic serving at 4-all, 15-40—but Djokovic swatted them both away and the two held from there until the tie-break, where the Serb bounced back from an early 3-0 deficit to sneak out the 85-minute first set, 7-5 in the breaker.
After trading breaks in the first two games of the second set, the two held until 3-all, when Djokovic struck again, breaking for 4-3—and he never let go from there, serving out a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory a few games later, ripping one last unreturnable crosscourt forehand on match point to close it out after two hours and 42 minutes on court, then dropping to his knees in celebration.
“I will always remember this tournament in Amersfoort,” Djokovic said afterwards.