Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic has collected his 36th Masters 1000 title and can now reflect in the knowledge that he has surpassed his rivals at that particular level of competition and set a new record.
I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments, today, yesterday, practically every match Novak Djokovic
His 7-5 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman at the Rome Masters has also helped him get over the disappointment of not claiming the US Open title after being defaulted thus failing to draw closer to Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in Grand Slam’s won terms.
But it has to be said that the diminutive Argentine, seeded eighth for the event, gave him plenty to think about before he collected his fifth Rome title, especially in the first set in what was Djokovic’s 10th final at the Foro Italico
He was forced to scrap hard against Schwartzman who opened up a 3-0 lead in the first set as the Argentine set himself on course for his first Masters title in his first final at that level.
Djokovic, once he found his rhythm, soon squashed his opponents ambitions running off four consecutive games to get back on serve and then broke him decisively in the 12th to pocket the set, but it hadn’t been easy. Schwartzman knows his way about a clay court and he has a fighting spirit second to none.
The start of the second set saw the pair exchange breaks before Djokovic wrestled control by breaking to love in game eight and then serving out the match to continue his seemingly unending run of wins.
“It was a great week, a very challenging week,” Djokovic said on court.
“I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments, today, yesterday, practically every match.
“So that makes me definitely very satisfied and proud that I managed to find that fifth gear when it was most needed. Now we’re turning to Paris. I couldn’t ask for a better tournament here in Rome, another big title and super-pleased with that.”
The win will provide some comfort for Djokovic, 33, after his controversial exit from Flushing Meadows earlier this month, where he was defaulted from his last 16 match against Pablo Carreno Busta having unintentionally struck a line judge with a ball.
In addition to his latest title, Djokovic learnt earlier in the day that he had retained his place at the top of the rankings and was clocking up his 287th week in that lofty position, surpassing Pete Sampras for second place in the all-time list.
“Pete was my childhood idol growing up, so of course surpassing his record is very special to me,” Djokovic said.
“I always looked up to him, and I wished to be mentally strong and resilient as he was, especially in the big tournaments, in the big moments. He’s one of the most mentally composed and toughest players ever to hold a racket. Being a World No. 1 for so many weeks proves how tough he was.”
It is Djokovic’s fifth stint at the summit of the men’s professional game. He started this latest one on the 3rd February 2020 and could depose Roger Federer’s record of 310 on the all-time list in 24 weeks-time.
Currently his main rival to end the year as No.1 is Rafa Nadal so a lot could hinge on how he does at the French Open starting next week.
“This is one of my two biggest professional goals,” said Djokovic. “To reach the record of, [and] surpass Roger’s record for longest [time at] No. 1 and win as many [Grand] Slams as possible. I have been saying that before, so I’m working towards that. I’m at a good place right now, in a good position. Hopefully I can stay healthy and continue to play well.”