Nadal returns to form with Rome triumph

Rafael Nadal returned to form in emphatic fashion last week as he claimed a ninth title at the Rome Masters beating long-time rival and world number one Novak Djokovic in the final. Alex Grant reports.

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Nadal struggled for form at last week’s Madrid Masters until victory in Rome (Credit: Getty)

Nadal’s victory saw him claim an 81st title of his incredible career and a record breaking 34th ATP Masters 1000 crown moving him one ahead of Djokovic just a week after the Serb had levelled the record with victory in Madrid.

Rain meant both men had to contend with playing two matches in one day earlier in the tournament but Nadal perhaps benefitting from a more straightforward route through the draw started the better breaking Djokovic in his opening service game.

Nadal, at the top of his game, was soon pushing and pulling the Serbian from pillar to post with the world number one even resorting to moonballing the great Spaniard as he struggled desperately to find answers to Nadal’s ominous start.

These answers were not to come, however, as Nadal, breaking Djokovic’s serve twice more, soon wrapped up a lopsided 6-0 first set. The first bagel either man had ever inflicted on the other in this their 54th career meeting.

The second set saw Djokovic’s famous fighting spirit come to the fore as he battled to stay alive in what was threatening to be a whitewash. The 31-year-old was forced to dig deep battling back from 0-40 down whilst serving at 3-3 before having to save another break point at 4-4. This proved crucial as a few loose points from Nadal in the following game allowed Djokovic to break the Spaniard, for the first (and last) time, to claim the second set 4-6 and force the final into a decider.

Nadal was not to be disheartened, however, and soon broke Djokovic in the first game of the deciding set, stealing back the momentum as quickly as it had been lost. This sucker punch was enough to send Djokovic’s emotions boiling over as he smashed his racket angrily into the dirt after seeing his attempted lob drift long to hand Nadal the break.

The Spaniard, widely regarded as the King of Clay, was not about to give up the momentum a second time and soon raced into a 3-1 lead, in the final set, before some mammoth hitting handed the 32-year-old the all-important second break to put him within sight of victory. From their Nadal never looked back holding serve before breaking Djokovic once more to wrap up the match 6-0 4-6 6-1 to claim his first ATP title in nine months after a rotten run with injuries.

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Nadal dominated Djokovic in the final to retain his title (Credit: Getty)

Speaking directly following the triumph Nadal was quick to express the importance of the victory:

“What means most to me is this trophy. Rome is one of the most important tournaments of the year. [It’s a big part] of the history of our sport. To be able to win here again is the main thing.”

The Spaniard also expressed his desire for his latest triumph to help him move on from his recent injury troubles:

“You don’t complain when you play bad, when you have problems, when you have pains. You put [on] the right attitude [and] the right face. You go on court every day with the passion to keep practicing,” said Nadal. “That’s something that I did during all of my career…that’s why I was able to always have the chance to be back. Here we are. Important title, important moment. Now is the moment to keep going.”

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Nadal and Djokovic met for the 54th time in a final 

Djokovic meanwhile was not willing to dwell on his day’s disappointment instead choosing to praise Nadal’s performance:

“I’m really glad that I managed to get into the third set, considering the first set where I was blown away from the court. Obviously third set was not much different from the first. Actually, first three, four games of the third set were quite close. Maybe that’s where I had a slight chance to build on the momentum that I had from winning the second set,” Djokovic said.

“I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side. He used it very well. He’s been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week. He was just too strong today.”

For both men they will now rest up and prepare for the beginning of the year’s second grand slam with the French Open due to get underway at the beginning of next week.

Roland Garros has the potential to be a big fortnight for both Nadal and Djokovic as the Spaniard seeks to make tennis history by becoming the first player to win a single event 12 times whilst the Serbian seeks to create history of his own by holding all four majors at the same time for the second time in his career and with it become the first man in the open era to complete the career grand slam twice.

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