Rafa Nadal reclaims the Rome Masers title he first won in 2005 as an 18-year-old to extend his record and mastery of the clay courts at the Foro Italico for a 10th time.
The 10th, I really wanted this 10th here in Rome. It was one of the first important titles that I won in my career Rafa Nadal
He defeated Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, 7-5 1-6 6-3 in what proved an intriguing two-hour, 49-minute final having survived two match points in the third round last Thursday.
Then Nadal showed some possible vulnerability but that has proved not to be the case as he went on to set another clay court record, improving his career total of titles to 88 with 62 of them won on clay. He has now also matched Djokovic with the number of Master levels won at 36 victories each, the most any player has won, and narrowed the gap between himself and the Serb to just one.
Their Head-to-Head now stands at 29-28 in Djokovic’s favour though when applied to clay, that has improved to 19-7 to Nadal! 10-5 if you single out just Rome!
It’s an incredible record which will be extended over the years as both are still in their early thirties. The pair have in fact established one of the greatest rivalries in modern tennis having now clashed 57 times.
“It’s a very satisfying one,” Nadal said of the win. “It’s amazing, have the trophy with me again one more time here in Rome. The 10th, I really wanted this 10th here in Rome. It was one of the first important titles that I won in my career.
“After achieving 10 in Roland Garros, 10 in Monte-Carlo, 10 in Barcelona, I really wanted this one. Yeah, super important tournament for me. I went through a lot of things during the week. Some positive, some great moments, some lucky moments, some suffering moments. At the end I think I played a very solid week of tennis.
“Very happy. The trophy means a lot to me. At the same time, it’s the right moment to win an important title.”
Nadal edged a mammoth opening set which lasted one-hour 15-minutes before Djokovic reasserted himself in the second set to force a decider.
That third set was evenly poised but Djokovic’s failure to convert two break points in the fifth game, proved his downfall as Nadal immediately capitalized by breaking his rival in the next game and holding on to serve out for the match.
“I feel that I was a little bit better than him at the end of the first set,” Nadal said. “At the beginning of the second too. But then I didn’t convert my chances in the first two games that he served. Then I played a terrible game against the wind and I lost a little bit my concentration there and it was 6-1.
“In the third set is true that he had the break-points but is something that can happen. I was serving against the wind, and against the wind is always a huge disadvantage. The big problem (is) if you lose your serve with the wind helping. But against the wind (if you lose that game you know you’re going to go to the other side and you can have the break back with the wind helping.”
The win had its moment of frustration for Nadal, especially during the marathon first set when he chased down the ball to hit a stunning passing winner.
He was unable to control his speed and after delivering his shot he slid and fell, tossing his racket away.
Dusting himself off, Nadal let fly at the umpire Carlos Bernardes, blaming his fall on height of the lines which he maintained were too high, a problem he had had already raised during his quarterfinal clash with Alexander Zverev.
“It’s incredible, the lines… they’re going to kill us in the end,” the 34-year-old reportedly uttered in an outburst which prompted some observers to claim they had “never seen Nadal this angry.”
The groundsmen were called and hammered the lines back in place.
Nadal later clarified the situation. “I was upset. The problem is clear. The lines are plastic and sometimes the lines are moving around and they are a little bit higher than the clay.”
Meanwhile his rival was equally pleased with his week and his efforts.
“I could have easily gone out from this tournament in quarters,” Djokovic admitted with reference to his comeback win on Saturday over Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I’m very pleased with my fighting spirit. The level of tennis was higher and higher, actually.
“Yesterday I played great. Today I thought I also played a high level. Unfortunately, decisive moments in the first and third set, you know, just went his way. It was a bit unfortunate.
“Didn’t capitalize on that breakpoint at 2-All. Next game I played against the wind with used balls. Just tough, you know, to play him from that side. Next game, 4-2, and he broke my serve. He got new balls. So that helps his serve.
“Just was a bit unfortunate in those moments, but overall, almost three hours of high-quality tennis. Of course I’m disappointed not to win it, but at the same time I’m very pleased with the level of tennis that I managed to find in the later stages of this tournament.”
He added that despite a busy Saturday when he spent five hours on court, he was fine physically and was happy with his preparations for Roland Garros where he hopes to prevent Nadal from winning an incredible 14th French Open crown.
He can rest assured that his rival is also getting well prepared.
“I have been playing better and better with my forehand the last couple of weeks, getting to the confidence point,” Nadal said. “That’s a huge improvement for me, very important shot. Especially on clay it (gives) me confidence.”
Winning Rome also re-established the King of Clay as the overwhelming favourite for the second Grand Slam of the season.