Djokovic Caps Perfect Rome Week, Wins Sixth Title

Novak Djokovic (photo: Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 15, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With the No. 1 ranking, a career 1,000th victory and the top seed at Roland Garros all secured – what he later labeled as a perfect week – Novak Djokovic entered his fourth straight Internazionali BNL d’Italia final and 12th overall in Rome with a clear mindset – and it showed. While he looked and played relaxed, Djokovic was no less determined to add a sixth Roman trophy to his collection.

On Sunday afternoon, seeking a record-extending 38th ATP Masters 1000 title against World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was making his first Rome final appearance, Djokovic played lights-out tennis against the Greek. It culminated in a 6-0, 7-6 (5) title victory that was concluded in an hour and 36 minutes before a sold-out Campo Centrale crowd at Foro Italico. It was his 1,001st career ATP Tour triumph. The 34-year-old Serbian, who rallied from 2-5 down in the second set to win in a tie-break, had successfully defended his Rome title. Then, he spoke fluent Italian in accepting his champion’s trophy.

Tsitsipas, who was bidding to win his second title of the season after he made a successful defense of his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters crown in April, came into the match trailing Djokovic in their lifetime head-to-head 6-2, including 4-0 on clay, and for the first set it showed. Djokovic won 27 of 37 points in the 30-minute opening set and broke Tsitsipas three straight times.

At the conclusion of the title match, Djokovic had amassed 24 winners to only 14 unforced errors and held Tsitsipas in check. The 23-year-old fourth seed could muster just eight winners and committed 20 unforced errors, 12 of them hitting backhanded returns. Djokovic converted four of six break points and was broken just once. He outpointed Tsitsipas 66-46.

“I surprised myself I can say,” Djokovic said after the victory during a post-match interview prior to the trophy ceremony. “I had a clear game plan and I knew what to expect. So, I knew what I had to do, but I did play a perfect first set. After that it was a little tighter. At this level, one or two points can turn a match and he was then back in the game at 4-1 up.

“The match could easily have gone to a third set but I managed to find the right shots at the right time to come back into the match. The tie-break I was maybe an inch better, but it was a tight, tight tie-break for both of us.”

No doubt, Tsitsipas was facing a player hitting stride at the peak of the European clay season with the French Open just a week away. After all, Djokovic had not dropped a set all week in the Italian capital city while dominating his early-round opponents, Aslan Karatsev and Stan Wawrinka, and rising to the occasion to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime and Casper Ruud in the business-end of the tournament.

By the end of the afternoon, with another straight-set victory, Djokovic had swept through the draw and improved his season win-loss record to 12-4. He won all 10 sets he played and captured his 87th career ATP Tour title.

“Two days ago I played great,” Djokovic said. “I have been building my form for the past couple of weeks and I knew that my best shape on clay usually comes around Rome time, so it could not be better going into Roland Garros with a title.”

After missing the entire Australian swing as well as Indian Wells and Miami due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Djokovic has only played in five tournaments in 2022 but he’s already won two of them and was a semifinalist in a third. His game is headed in the right direction as he readies for Roland Garros in another week. As consolation, Tsitsipas, who entered Sunday with a tour-leading 31 victories, will rise to No. 4 in the new ATP Rankings on Monday.

Mektic and Pavic win first doubles title since Tokyo Olympics

Defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, ended the surprising run of American John Isner and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina to win the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title Sunday. They clinched their fourth ATP Masters 1000 crown together with a 6-2, 6-7 (6), 12-10 victory that lasted an hour and 56 minutes on Pietrangeli and ended just as Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas were walking out on Campo Centrale next door to begin the men’s singles final.

While it was the first time the Top-30 singles stars Isner and Schwartzman had teamed together in doubles, in contrast Mektic and Pavic won nine tour-level titles last season en route to finishing the year as the No. 1 team in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Team Rankings. However, before this week, they had not won any titles since the Tokyo Olympics last July. In Rome, the third-seeded Croatians’ luck turned for better and they lost just one set all tournament in compiling five straight victories.

“It’s big, we kind of started the year a little bit slow,” Pavic said in a post-match interview. “We were struggling, we were a little unlucky. It was not ideal.

“Obviously, the first title of the year, it means a lot to gain some confidence. It’s been a while. We won a lot of tournaments last year, so always to win the title is a pretty good achievement. Especially, as it’s a Masters 1000 title.”

Added Mektic, after prevailing in the match tie-break: “It means so much. I mean … I don’t have to talk too much about it. Each point is so important. So, I’m so, so happy that we made it this time.”

Isner was trying to win his third ATP Masters 1000 doubles title this season, each with a different partner. He won Indian Wells with Jack Sock, then won Miami alongside Hubert Hurkacz.

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic, at 34 years, 11 months, 23 days, becomes the oldest Rome champion in the Open Era. Last year Rafael Nadal at 34 years, 11 months, 13 days, became the oldest winner.

“Quotable …”

“I’ve seen Roger and Rafa celebrate those milestones in the last couple of years and I was looking forward to get to that 1,000 myself. I’m really, really blessed and privileged to have that many victories on the Tour. It’s been a long time, ever since I won my first match on the Tour. Hopefully, I can keep going and many more victories to come.”

Novak Djokovic, during an on-court interview in celebration of achieving his 1,000th career Tour victory Saturday evening.