Perfect 10 as Nadal overpowers Djokovic in Rome decider

Published May 18, 2021
ROME: Spain’s Rafael Nadal (top) and Iga Swiatek of Poland pose with their trophies after winning their respective finals at the Italian Open.—Reuters/AFP
ROME: Spain’s Rafael Nadal (top) and Iga Swiatek of Poland pose with their trophies after winning their respective finals at the Italian Open.—Reuters/AFP

ROME: Rafael Nadal defeated world number one Novak Djokovic to win a 10th Italian Open title on Sunday while fellow French Open champion Iga Swiatek whitewashed Karolina Pliskova in just 45 minutes to claim the women’s tournament.

Second seed Nadal won through 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in 2hr 49min against the defending champion to match Djokovic’s record of 36 Masters 1000 titles and lay down a key marker two weeks out from the defence of his Roland Garros crown.

“I really wanted this title. This had been one of the first important titles I won in my career. I’d won 10 in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros and really wanted this one too,” said 34-year-old Nadal.

Polish teenager Swiatek crushed Czech ninth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 to win her first Masters 1000 trophy on the red clay at the Foro Italico.

“I’m overwhelmed, at the beginning of this tournament I would not have dreamed of winning it,” said an emotional Swiatek, who will break into the Top 10 as a result of her run in Rome.

“When I was playing I didn’t even know what was the score,” admitted the 19-year-old.

“When my coach told me it was 6-0, 6-0, I was, like, Really? Isn’t that a mistake?”

Djokovic and Nadal were facing each other for the 57th time, having last played in the 2020 French Open final which the Spaniard won easily in straight sets.

ROME: Spain’s Rafael Nadal (top) and Iga Swiatek of Poland pose with their trophies after winning their respective finals at the Italian Open.—Reuters/AFP
ROME: Spain’s Rafael Nadal (top) and Iga Swiatek of Poland pose with their trophies after winning their respective finals at the Italian Open.—Reuters/AFP

The pair have won 15 of the last 17 Rome titles between them, while Nadal leads their head-to-head in finals in the Italian capital 4-2.

Despite losing his opening service game Nadal broke back in the third game hitting twice as many winners as the Serb with 21 in the set.

A dip in form in the second set allowed Djokovic, 33, to break twice and get back into the game.

But Nadal got back on track in the third with Djokovic having played nearly five hours on court on Saturday between his rain-delayed quarter-finals and semi-final matches.

The Spaniard saved two break points on his serve in the fifth game and broke for love for 4-2.

Djokovic saved a first match point in the eighth game but Nadal made no mistake on his second chance in the following to seal his 88th career title after winning in Barcelona earlier this month.

“I’m disappointed not to win, but pleased with my level,” said five-time Rome winner Djokovic, who leads their overall head-to-head 29-28. “Going into Paris it’s a good sensation. I feel like I want to feel on clay.”

The French Open gets underway in Paris on May 30 where 13-time champion Nadal will be chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion at Roland Garros, will be hoping to become the first man in over half a century and just the third in history to win all four majors more than once.

Earlier Swiatek, ranked 15, claimed her third WTA title after a win in Adelaide in January.

She swept through the first set in just 20 minutes, allowing Pliskova four points, dropping just 13 in total throughout the match.

Pliskova tried to fight back in the third game of the second set, holding a double break to win the third game, but the Polish player ruthlessly snuffed out any return.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021

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