WASHINGTON, September 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
One of the challenges of winning an ATP Masters 1000 singles title is that it requires both energy and determination – and the ability to beat a stacked draw filled with talented players. It’s what World No. 1 Novak Djokovic did for the 36th time in his storied career: he won an ATP Masters 1000 tournament final.
It wasn’t easy or smooth, but Djokovic prevailed over Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, the hottest clay-court player in the world, 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 53 minutes to win the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at Foro Italico in Rome Monday evening. It was the fifth time Djokovic has won the Italian Open championship out of 10 finals appearances.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) September 21, 2020
Djokovic’s history-making victory, which was witnessed by about 1,000 social-distanced fans who encircled the double-tiered Centrale, lifted him ahead of Rafael Nadal‘s 35 career ATP Masters 1000 titles and it happened three weeks after he completed his second career Golden Masters when he won the Western & Southern Open in New York.
“It was a great week, a very challenging week,” Djokovic said during an on-court interview prior to the trophy ceremony. Winning Rome came two weeks after the Serbian was disqualified from the US Open for accidentally striking a ball that hit a line umpire in the throat. “I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments today, yesterday [and in] practically every match.”
With his latest victory, the 33-year-old Djokovic has won 31 of his 32 matches this season. By winning Rome, the Serbian has now lifted four trophies in the abbreviated 2020 calendar year: Australian Open, Dubai, Western & Southern Open, and now in Rome. The 17-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic will head to Paris and be the men’s top seed at Roland Garros, a major he’s won once (2016) and been a finalist three others times.
“That definitely makes me very satisfied and proud that I managed to find that fifth great when it was most needed,” Djokovic said. “Turning to Paris, I couldn’t ask for a better tournament here in Rome. Another big title and [I am] super pleased with it.”
— Internazionali Bnl (@InteBNLdItalia) September 21, 2020
Djokovic fell behind a double break at 3-0 to Schwartzman at the beginning of the championship match. But six games later, there was nothing between them. The World No. 1 found his rhythm and footing after an early sprinkle and began to mix up his game with a variety of potent ground strokes and deft drop shots near the net – creating angles out of nowhere – that rewarded him nicely. He pulled ahead 5-4 by stringing together game wins in five of the next six games. Djokovic went on to capture the first set 7-5.
Then, both players wrestled to hold their serve as the second set unfolded. At 3-all, following back-to-back service breaks to begin the set, and after Djokovic fought off two break points to hold serve in the fifth, the Serbian held at love for 4-3. Soon, Djokovic found himself ahead love-40 with three break-point chances against Schwartzman. He hit a dominating forehand that left the Argentine dead in his tracks and, suddenly, Djokovic was ahead 5-3 and ready to serve for his fifth Rome title.
10 Rome Finals for @DjokerNole
2020 d @DieSchwartzman 75 63
2019 l @RafaelNadal 60 46 61
2017 l @AlexZverev 64 63
2016 l @Andy_Murray 63 63
2015 d @RogerFederer 64 63
2014 d Nadal 46 63 63
2012 l Nadal 75 63
2011 d Nadal 64 64
2009 l Nadal 76(2) 62
2008 d @StanWawrinka 46 63 63
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) September 21, 2020
In what turned out to be the final game of the final set of the men’s final, Djokovic went ahead 15-0 when Schwartzman hit a cross-court backhand wide of the sideline, then extended his lead to 30-0 by opening the court with a nice, simple and effective volley. He gained triple match point with a backhand winner – his 11th straight point against Schwartzman. After conceding back-to-back points to the diminutive Argentine, Djokovic still had a match point on his racquet. This time, Djokovic made it count but not before he and Schwartzman exchanged a nail-biting, back-and-forth 26-shot rally. It ended when Schwartzman, drawn in toward the net by a Djokovic touch volley, tapped an inside-out forehand volley wide.
Indeed, it wasn’t easy or smooth, but Djokovic reached the finish line and appreciated what he found. He applauded the tremendous effort given by Schwartman, too. Schwartzman reached the final by knocking out back-to-back Top 20 foes. He stunned the World No. 2 Nadal 6-2, 7-5 in the quarterfinals, then followed it with a three-hour, three-set thriller over Denis Shapovalov to set up Monday evening’s final against Djokovic.
“Diego played well in heavy conditions, especially at the beginning,” Djokovic said. “He played many long matches. He had fantastic wins against Nadal and Shapovalov last night. So, credit to him for a phenomenal tournament and I wish him all the best in the rest of the season.”
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 21, 2020
During his virtual press conference, Schwartzman described his mindset for the final and gave props to Djokovic. “I played a great match at the baseline and I did many good things,” he said. “The first set and maybe the start of the second set I was doing what I wanted to do, playing aggressive and solid with good movement. But the conditions, with the rain, were not helping me to do a good serve. …
“I had the chances, like I did against Rafa. But in the end, Novak was Novak. The last 3-4 games he played unbelievable.”
When it was Djokovic’s turn to face the virtual media, he reflected on his successful and record-breaking week in Rome with a look ahead to Roland Garros. “I really wanted to get on the court [after New York]. I had a really good week,” he said. “I don’t think I played my best tennis, to be honest. I don’t want to sound arrogant here. I’m of course very, very satisfied and pleased and happy to have won the title.
“Hopefully I can raise my level for the French because it’s going to be necessary if I’m going to go deep in the tournament. The important thing is I think I served well throughout the entire tournament and I found my ‘A’ game when it was most needed in the decisive moments. When I needed to find my best game, I did.”