Rafael Nadal is finally a champion in 2019, winning the Italian Open for his first trophy of the year. He was dominant for large parts of the win against Novak Djokovic, with only a minor second set blip in the 6-0 4-6 6-1 victory. It’s the ninth time Nadal has won in Rome and his 34th Masters 1000 title overall, a record once again all his own following Djokovic tying it up at 33 in Madrid last week.
Nadal came into the match much fresher following a week after easy victories against his opponents. It showed as Djokovic was flat early on while Nadal was at his very best, breaking in the opener thanks to one of Djokovic’s 39 unforced errors. A short ball was punished by Nadal to secure a second break as Nadal ran away with the first set. In their previous 53 clashes, there had not been a 6-0 set in favour of any player but Nadal finally ended that streak in the opening set. Djokovic tried his hardest in game 5, saving 4 break points but couldn’t do much about one of the Spaniard’s trademark backhand passes on the next one.
Djokovic came to life in the second set, finally doing something to disturb Nadal after being dictated to all set long in the first. It was still Nadal having most of the chances but he was unable to convert three break points at 3-3 and another at 4-4. Djokovic put the pressure on and managed his only break of the match to take the second set, after a loose forehand error from Nadal.
The comeback didn’t last long though, with a suspect overhead once again haunting the Serbian. He failed to put away one on game point, eventually getting broken several points later in a game he should have been out of. Nadal almost managed to repeat the first set, having a chance to break for 3-0. It went unconverted but didn’t particular matter with the Spaniard remaining tough on serve throughout. He still added two additional breaks, including one to close the match.
“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. He is still the clear leader in the ATP Rankings, with a lead of over 4000 points to Nadal. He will be disappointed to have not established his dominance further over Nadal ahead of the French Open, where the No.2 remains the favourite.
Nadal is peaking at the right time, playing excellent tennis all week in Rome. It is even better for him, given the similarities between there and Paris in terms of playing conditions. “You were asking for titles. Finally, I have a title.” he said afterwards. “For me, the most important thing is feeling myself playing well and healthy, with the energy that I need. If that happens, the experience is that I’m going to fight for titles sooner or later.
A fit, healthy and confident Nadal is always going to be a scary prospect at Roland Garros and a 12th French Open title looks a lot more likely than it did a month ago.