World number one Rafael Nadal overcame stubborn early resistance from defending champion Novak Djokovic to claim a record fourth Rome Masters title with a 7-6, 6-2 win on Sunday.
The Spaniard took the first set in a tiebreak before breaking the Serbian third seed twice in the second set to bag his fifth title of the year, his third on clay, and continue his dominance.
”[It’s] one of the most important [wins] of my career,” Nadal, who will be gunning for a fifth successive French Open title later this month, told a news conference.
”Winning in Rome is a big title. I now have 15 Masters Series in my career, so that’s a lot, and I’m very happy for that.”
Sunday’s victory lifted Nadal to the top of the Rome league, surpassing the record of three titles he had shared with Austrian Thomas Muster, Australian Martin Mulligan and Czech Jaroslav Drobny.
Nadal enjoyed a flying start to the match, which had been slightly delayed because a spectator fell ill during the warm-up, breaking in the opening game.
The Spaniard looked unstoppable and had a set point in the ninth game on Djokovic’s serve but let his advantage slip. Nadal dropped serve in the next game with some uncharacteristic loose forehands, allowing the Serb to level at 5-5.
Djokovic smashed up a racket up for the second time this week when he immediately conceded serve again.
The 21-year-old Serb, who rallied to beat Roger Federer in the semis, quickly regained composure to forge back on level terms and the crowd got behind him sensing a surprise only for Nadal to run away with the tiebreak 7-2.
The top seed saved a break point at the start of the second and things stayed tight until a double fault cost Djokovic his serve in the sixth game.
Nadal broke again and sealed victory with a superlative forehand pass.
”When I needed to maybe stay a little bit more patient and just play the right shots I made some unforced errors,” said Djokovic, who did his impersonation of Nadal during the awards ceremony.
The result also meant Djokovic would surrender the number three spot in the world rankings to Andy Murray on May 11 even though the 21-year-old Scot lost his opening match in Rome to Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco.
Despite the setback, the Serb remained upbeat.
”I’ve been playing really well in the last three Masters Series events and I’m really happy with the shape I’m in at the moment,” said Djokovic, who reached the final of Miami and Monte Carlo Masters last month.
”So I will try to stay physically fit because that’s what I’m going need very much in upcoming two months until the Wimbledon is over.
”Confidence is really important in this sport, in any sport. Right now I think I have good confidence.” – Reuters