Rome: Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win a ninth Italian Open title and a record 34rd Masters crown on Sunday.
World number one Djokovic, winner at the Madrid Open last week, produced an error-strewn performance in his 54th meeting with second-ranked Nadal, who claimed the 81st title of his career. Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins — the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday’s final — in a timely boost ahead of his assault on a 12th French Open crown in a week’s time.
After three semi-final defeats in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal has returned to his best form ahead of Roland Garros and lifted his first title of the season. The Spaniard dominated early with Djokovic losing a set 6-0 for the first time to a player he describes as his “greatest rival”.
But Nadal missed four break chances in the second set, dropping his first set this week after losing serve at 4-5, to throw the Serb a lifeline. The fightback was brief as the 31-year-old Djokovic dropped his serve immediately in the third set, smashing his racket in frustration.
Nadal broke his opponent twice more to seal a third win over Djokovic in their five Rome finals, although the latter still holds a 28-26 career edge. Nadal, seeded second, was playing his fourth straight semi-final, but had not managed to go further on clay this season.
The 32-year-old had been stunned by Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded eighth and 12 years his junior, in the semi-finals at the Madrid Open last weekend. Ruthless Nadal, unruffled by the theatrics, held to take a 2-0 lead and had a break point for a 3-0 advantage.
But Djokovic saved it with a sumptuous backhand winner down the line. He won the next two points to halve the deficit and maintain the intrigue. But the tension did not last. Nadal reeled off the next four games to take the claim the set 6-1 and the match in just under two and a half hours.
It was his first title of the year and a record 34th crown at a Masters event which are considered just below the Grand Slam tournaments in terms of prestige.”Winning a title is important,” said Nadal. “But it is important to feel healthy and competitive. You can win and you can lose but as long as you have your physique, that’s crucial.”