Nadal Wins Title Number 10 In Rome

Rafael Nadal (photo: @InteBNLdItalia/Twitter)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 16, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Since 2006, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have met a staggering 57 times covering all four Grand Slam finals, the Nitto ATP Finals and nine different ATP Masters 1000 events.

You can even toss in the ATP Cup, Davis Cup and the Olympic Games for good measure.

However, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry has taken place at Foro Italico more often than anywhere else. On Sunday, in their ninth meeting at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia – and the sixth time they’ve met in the Rome final – the two future Hall of Fame stars put on another great show that will be talked about for the next two weeks of days and night leading up to the Roland Garros fortnight.

While five-time Rome champion Djokovic walked out on Campo Centrale owning a 29-27 edge in their career head-to-head, it was Nadal who came up clutch in the most important moments and won 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 to capture his 10th Italian Open title. As Tennis Channel commentator Brett Haber remarked after championship point was won by Nadal: “The Eternal City conquered again by the eternal champion – a 10th Rome title for Rafa.”

Nadal’s victory Sunday tied him with Djokovic for career ATP Masters 1000 titles won. Each now has garnered 36. It also marked the first time they’ve faced each other since last year’s French Open final, which Nadal won in straight sets.

Nadal improved his Rome finals win-loss record against Djokovic to 4-2 with his latest triumph, while Djokovic is now 5-6 in Rome title matches. The win improved Nadal’s 2021 win-loss record to 18-3. The title match victory was the Spaniard’s fifth straight win and he’s 14-2 on red clay this season. The loss dropped Djokovic to 16-3 (7-3 on red clay).


When Nadal was asked during a brief court-side interview before the trophy ceremony what it meant to him to win his 10th Rome crown, he said: “It’s amazing I have this trophy in my hands for a tenth time. It’s something that’s impossible to imagine, but it’s happened. I’m super happy. I can’t thank my team enough, and life for all these opportunities, and everybody’s support has been huge during all these years. To have the trophy on this day, this year, it’s amazing.”

Nadal capitalized on a couple of key service breaks – the first one to go up 6-5 in the first set and, again, when he broke Djokovic at love to take a commanding 4-2 lead in the final set – and they proved to be the difference during the emotionally-charged two hour and 49-minute match played before a reduced-capacity audience.

At a set apiece following a 75-minute opening set that Nadal prevailed in followed by Djokovic’s dominance in the middle set – and at 2-all in the third, as the title match reached the two-and-one-half-hour mark – Nadal saved two break points to hold his serve for a 3-2 lead.

Recharged and regrouped after a dip in his energy level during the second set, the King of Clay raised the level of his game when it mattered the most. He hit a forehand winner down the line to break Djokovic at love in the ensuing game for a 4-2 advantage. From there, Nadal put away his 10th and latest Rome title on his second championship point after Djokovic finished an eight-shot rally with a backhand that sailed long.

Nadal finished with 37 winners (21 of them came in the first set) and 23 unforced errors. He converted three of six break points against Djokovic and outpointed his opponent 97-94. Djokovic hit 28 winners but committed 36 unforced errors. He broke Nadal three times in six opportunities. Each won 65 percent of their first-serve points.

“Overall, [it was] almost three hours of high-quality tennis,” Djokovic commented during his virtual press conference after the trophy ceremony. “Of course, I’m disappointed not to win it, but at the same time, I’m pleased with the level of tennis I managed to find in the later stages of this tournament. Going into Paris brings me good sensation. I actually [have] started to feel like I actually want to feel on clay.”

Later, during his virtual press conference Nadal called his title victory “very satisfying.

“It’s amazing [to] have the trophy with me again one more time here in Rome. The 10th, I really wanted this 10th here in Rome. 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.”

Mektic and Pavic win sixth doubles title of season

Croatian duo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have reached the final of all four ATP Masters 1000 tournaments this season. They have proven themselves to be the team to beat this season on the ATP Tour. On Sunday, they completed a championship week in which they didn’t drop any sets en route to winning their sixth doubles trophy of the season and third ATP Masters 1000 crown at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

The No. 2 seeds beat fifth seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in 84 minutes on the Grand Stand Arena at Foro Italico. The triumph improved their season win-loss record to 37-4 and they’re in first place in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings.

“It feels great and we’re very happy with the way we played the whole tournament,” said Pavic, 27. “We didn’t drop a set, so it showed how well we played throughout the week. It was a tough match. There were only a couple of chances in the first set before it became tighter in the second set from 6-0 to 6-4 [in the tie-break]. I hope we can keep going.

“The goal is to qualify for the ATP Finals in Turin. I was hoping we’d have good results, but it has surprised me a little bit as we hadn’t played together before this year.”

Added Mektic: “Mate hit some good returns in the tie-break. It was a tough second set and we struggled with the return, as this court is a little faster than the other courts. It’s been an amazing year, but we expected to do well [at the start of the year].”

What they’re saying

Hall of Famer-turned-broadcaster Jim Courier, commenting on Tennis Channel of Rafael Nadal’s 10th Rome title victory: “It was not one of his easy championships of the ten, for sure. My goodness, saving the two match points against [Denis] Shapovalov in the third round, now he takes out his [biggest] rival in the finals. … Let’s also tip our cap to Novak Djokovic, who after nearly five hours of tennis [Saturday] gave a fantastic performance today.”

By the numbers

Rafael Nadal, 34, and Novak Djokovic, 33, are the oldest Rome finalists in the Open Era (going back to 1968). Sunday’s matchup was the second-oldest of the 277 ATP Masters 1000 finals in series history (since 1990). The oldest ATP Masters 1000 final? It was played in 2019 at the Miami Open when Roger Federer, 37, defeated John Isner, 33.