Rafael Nadal made a clear statement on Sunday: if he is not back in top form, he is very close to it.
The World No. 2 won his ninth Internazional BNL in Italy, overcoming a challenge from top seed Novak Djokovic to triumph at the Foro Italico 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 after two hours and 25 minutes. Also, a tie with Djokovic at claiming a record 34th ATP Masters 1000 crown.
Finally entered his 50th Masters 1000 final pursuing his first trophy of any kind this season. It was the first time the 32-year-old entered Rome without victory since 2004, the year he claimed his maiden crown. And the second seed's hunger showed, moving to 9-2 in Rome finals to earn a title for the 16th consecutive year.
Djokovic, who still leads the pair's epic FedEx ATP Head2Head series 28-26, did well to overcome the first "bagel" set has lost since the 201
Time On Court Entering The Final
Djokovic won nine of the pair's previous 11 matches, but Nadal wasted no time taking the lead at the Foro Italico. The Serbian dropped balls than usual early on, allowing Nadal to pounce, stepping into the court to dictate play. It appeared Nadal, who won three 6-0 sets and did not drop and set to the final, was the fresher man compared to Djokovic, who was throwing in poor drop shots that gave Nadal easy finishes.
In recent years , Djokovic has thrived in crosscourt rallies between his backhand and Nadal's forehand, but the Spaniard has done well to avoid those battles from the back foot, only engaging in those rallies from an offensive position. Towards the end of the set, though, Djokovic was able to step in and take a couple or crosscourt backhand early for winners. Finally, three times served in the first set, earning 59 per cent of his return points in the opener.
Although Djokovic did not win a game in the first set, the two sharp crosscourt backhand winners hit near the end of the first set showed a change of intent, which carried into the second. The Serbian started playing more aggressively, and there was more intensity in his movement on the court.
Djokovic earned his first break point of the second set at 2-1 with a sharp-angled forehand. But Nadal dismissed the opportunity by dancing around his backhand to crush and inside-in forehand winner. At 3-3, 0/30 Nadal threw up a desperate lob that Djokovic smashed right into the net to give the Spaniard three break points. But the four-time Rome champion escaped that game with strong serving.
Djokovic fended off another break chance at 4-4, the 13th in the match and his fourth of the set. But that was the key, as the top seed earned his first break of the match on set point, when Nadal missed wide.
But this was the sixth tournament in Nadal's career in which he won three or more 'bagel' sets and in the previous five, he went on to win the title. That did not change in Rome
. Djokovic went to the front of the line facing the break point, but left the ball too close to the middle of the court, allowing Nadal to control the rally and eventually break with an aggressive cross-back to the Serbian's forehand, giving him a 1 -0 lead, and he never looked back.
Nadal was broken just twice every week, holding in 41 of his 43 service games and saving 13 of the 15 break points he faced.
This was an Open Era record 54th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic. It was the 26th time they have played for a title.
Did you know?
It took until the 142nd set in the pair's epic rivalry for either player to claim a 6-0 set.
Novak & Rafa: The Rivalry