The contact area, friction force, and relative displacement evolution at the very early stage of fretting are investigated experimentally. Copper and steel spheres of various diameters are loaded against a hard sapphire flat by a range of normal loads deep into the elastic-plastic regime of deformation. A reciprocating tangential loading is then applied with a maximum loading below the static friction to avoid gross slip. Real-time and in situ direct measurements of the contact area, along with accurate measurements of the friction force and relative displacement, reveal substantial junction growth and energy dissipation mainly in the first loading cycle. The so-called “slip amplitude” is found to be attributed to residual tangential plastic deformation rather than to interfacial slip. Elastic shake-down is observed for the 2.5% hardening steel spheres while plastic shake-down is observed in the case of the elastic perfectly-plastic copper spheres.