If anyone did not know it by now, then they would have to be living under a rock. Rafa Nadal has shown again why he is the greatest clay court player tennis has ever seen.
In Rome at the Italian Open in the beautiful surrounds of the Foro Italico, a facility originally built in the 1930’s, Rafa won the title for the tenth time. It also marked the fourth time he has won an event ten or more times having previously done so at Roland Garros 13 times, Barcelona 12 times and the Rolex Monte Carlo Open eleven times.
“It’s a very satisfying one. It's amazing, have the trophy with me again one more time here in Rome,” Nadal said with his face beaming. “The 10th, I really wanted this 10th here in Rome, no? 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, no? Yeah, super important tournament for me. I went through a lot of things during the week. Some positive, some great moments, some lucky moments, 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.”
It was a tough match, and it took Nadal two hours 49 minutes to claim the championship over the world No1 Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3. It was their first meeting since the French Open final last October and it was their first clash in Rome since the 2019 final – Nadal won on both those occasions.
The early part of the match saw Djokovic with a bit more control, but once Nadal got his forehand working, he scraped through for the first set. Djokovic was definitely not rolling over as he clinched he second. He had put in a massive effort to reach the final having to play nearly five hours and double up with matches the day before because rain had interrupted the schedule. He first rallied back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets and then stopped young Italian Lorenzo Sonego, also in three sets in the semis.
The fifth game of the final set of the title match proved to be the cruncher. At 2-2 Nadal saved break points and he gained an extra boost when he held serve because he broke Djokovic a game later and went on to finish things off.
“I’m very pleased with my fighting spirit. The level of tennis was higher and higher, actually,” Djokovic said. “(The day before) I played great (and in the final) 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.
“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. Going into Paris brings me good sensation. I actually now started to feel like I actually want to feel on clay.”
With a combined age of 67, Rafa and Novak played the “oldest” final in Rome in the Open-era which started in 1968 and it was the second oldest Masters 1000 final since the series began in 1990.
This is Nadal’s 88th career title and is behind Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer, and Ivan Lendl, and he ties Djokovic for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles at 36. This was their 57th meting the most prolific rivalry in men’s tennis and Djokovic leads 29-28. It was their sixth meeting in a final at the Foro Italico and Nadal now leads 4-2.
The doubles event was won by Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 6-4, 7-6 over Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury.