Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic to win Italian Open for record-extending 10th time

Spaniard wins 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in Rome despite potentially dangerous fall due to raised line during final

Rafael Nadal beat a tired Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 for a record-extending 10th Italian Open title on Sunday.

The Spaniard recovered from a potentially dangerous fall after tripping over a raised line to take the latest installment of the most-played rivalry in modern men’s tennis.

It also re-established Nadal as the overwhelming favorite for the French Open, where he will be aiming for an even harder-to-believe 14th title starting in two weeks.

"It's amazing I have this trophy in my hands for a 10th time, something impossible to imagine," said the world No 3 who also equalled Djokovic's record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles in his 12th Rome final.

"I remember the first final I won here in Rome back in 2005 against [Guillermo] Coria which lasted five hours," recalled the 34-year-old of his five-set battle past the Argentine.

The top-ranked Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court Saturday, when he had to rally for a rain-delayed quarter-final victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas before winning another three-setter over local favorite Lorenzo Sonego in the semi-finals. Nadal played only once on Saturday, beating Reilly Opelka in one-and-a-half hours.

It was the 57th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, which is the most matches between two men in the Open era. It was also their ninth meeting in Rome, where they have played more than anywhere else.

Djokovic now holds the slimmest of edges in the all-time series, 29-28, while Nadal holds a 6-3 advantage in Rome overall and 4-2 in Rome finals.

"It doesn't get a bigger challenge than playing in the final against Rafa," said five-time Rome winner Djokovic.

"Overall, three hours of high quality tennis. I'm disappointed not to win, but pleased with my level.

"Going into Paris it's a good sensation. I feel like I want to feel on clay. If I play like I did last night and today I think I have a shot in Paris. I'll play in Belgrade and then go to Paris ready to rock and roll."

The 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium was only a quarter full due to the coronavirus pandemic. But those lucky few in attendance on an overcast day at the Foro Italico made themselves heard, shouting Djokovic’s nickname, “Nole, Nole,” on the big points, or “C’mon Rafa.”

For the second time this week, Nadal tripped over a line that appeared slightly raised on the center court of the Foro Italico. The incident, which resulted in a bloody scrape near the Spaniard’s left knee, made Nadal livid.

At 3-3 in the first set, Nadal chased down a short ball from Djokovic and whipped a cross-court passing shot for a winner. Then his momentum made him slide into the doubles alley and his left foot tripped over the outside line, causing him to roll over onto the clay.

Nadal got up immediately and jabbed his arm into the air angrily and had a word with the chair umpire, who called on court workers to hammer the line further into the clay court. Nadal had a similar fall in his quarter-final victory over Alexander Zverev.

Published: May 16, 2021 11:21 PM

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